Review Summary: James Blake rounds out a whirlwind year with a much more muted statement, a slightly disjointed but still compelling listen that pays tribute to a tired ghost long since laid to rest
Who is James Blake, if not the most enigmatic man in music right now? And more importantly, is this a question that James Blake himself can even answer truthfully? To perpetuate a stereotype, he’s become the archetypal definition of logical progression. But that progression hasn’t been one simply shaping the identity of the artist; no, every variation on the same distinguished sound that he’s found himself attached too (even if, from a distance) has been more than just a refinement of his process. His artful dubstep advocacy gave way to more bare-boned soul peeled thin over the empty silence of dying bass music, but being more than just passing fascinations he crafted each release into a defining statement for each and all. He hung around long enough to sculpt each of his tendencies as close to the bone as he could allow, to the point where the unfamiliar became completely and fully, James Blake.
Even Enough Thunder
, with its complete abandonment of structure and perceived lack of direction was nothing more than a further analysis of the case study he provided on himself with his self-titled LP. So, Love What Happened Here
is Blake coming full circle, it’s a return to form….. of sorts. It lands fairly close to the basic and minimal patchwork of his earliest releases: the lopsided percussion juxtaposed against the insistence of hand-claps, church organ synths, and quasi neo-soul that ambiguously hovers over being both refreshing and strangely reflective. And despite being intrinsically tied into the sketchy noir-like atmosphere of his LP, the EPs title track carries its now hallmark-soul through the music over anything Blake might possibly have to say. And we get to hear Blake, chopped up in amongst the buzzing fray, juxtaposed against other anonymous spirits caught in mid-orbit, but here he’s even more fragmented than usual, acting instead as another instrument. It’s all a little familiar at this point, and consequently it’s undeniably Blake, but it feels strangely different; a meshing of the past and the present that ends up falling somewhere in between the two.
‘At Birth’ is something new for the artist though, despite it still harboring a fascination to loosely comment on the indefinable. It discards his more leftfield garage for something that attempts to rub shoulders with the more deep-thinking house of the Detroit and Chicago scenes of American house: four-to-the-floor thump with the bass wisely turned down to a more distant low-end rumble, hypnotic jazzy motifs desperately clinging on like cigarette smoke, doe-eyed longing for subtle techno nuances. It has all the hallmarks of dancefloor filler, but Blake wisely ignores the idea of pinning the hopes of the song onto a hook, eschewing anthem for anonymity.
The EP takes an abrupt turn in its final moments however, with the initially perplexing ‘Curbside’, that strangely seems less formidable now that when it appeared sans artist recognition on Ben UFO’s Rinse mix. It’s a slovenly and, at times, jarring take on booming big beat, reassembled for the laptop scene of the new century. Like a deconstructive Skalpel beat, it’s a swirling mix of broken horns, tumbling percussion and drawn out vocal samples. Repeated listens reveal the elusive structure buried under the stuttering timpani, but the track, which suffers from being more upfront than what we’ve come to expect from the artist, still feels like a work in progress. It’s an obvious experiment, and as a b-side it seems to command some sort of recognition of that fact, but there’s the makings of a fine track in there somewhere
, but Blake seems to have favored (once again) the intangible. But it’s less open to interpretation than simply just a rather odd assortment of sounds, thinly held together by alleycat percussion and shows that James Blake, a man who in the last year has become warmly embraced by…. well, the whole word almost, is far from being infallible.
In the grand scheme of things, Love What Happened Here
is almost more of the same from James Blake, the dubstep complexities of his CMYK
release paired with the haunting mystique from his rebirth as an electronic indie troubadour. It’s still a statement of sorts, though more of a muted one, as if Blake is finally ready to perhaps settle down for a spell. Whether it’s a stepping stone on the path to a new direction, a collective tying-off of the old before the new has a chance to begin, or maybe a release to appease the fans who have been patiently awaiting the definitive sequel to Air & Lack Thereof
, Love What Happened Here
is still another compelling listen from perhaps the biggest sensation of 2011. It’s an EP for those who remember when James Blake simply made beats rather than songs, and this is nothing more than a tribute to that tired ghost that apparently has since been put to rest.