Navigating the space between electronic wonderkid and melancholic wordsmith has not been easy for James Blake. His debut, self-titled, album created an uneasy marriage of his dubstep heritages’ base elements and soulful, pensive lyrics. It served to at once confuse the fan base he had garnered but open up a whole new audience and led to critical acclaim. His latest release doesn’t succeed in cementing his position in either camp, but sees him move closer to some undefined middle ground.
Lifting the best elements from his first LP, Enough Thunder sees Blake move forward, only at a shuffle rather than a march. The haunting vocals seem to swell even more impressively on ‘Once We All Agree’ than they did throughout the long player; his bittersweet tones, here, aren’t enveloped by the heavy production aspects but instead compliment the technical style of this music. It’s nothing far removed from his previous efforts but he pulls the different elements together with a new sense of focus.
For many, the real draw here is Blake’s collaboration with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on ‘Falls Creek Boys Choir’. It’s a shame, then, that Vernon’s vocals lose their chorale quality under the weight of the production – the auto tuning leaves his voice barely recognisable. Although the song produces the haunting romanticism inherent to Blake’s music, it feels like a wasted opportunity to marry Vernon’s more folk- styled harmonies to a more modern musical arrangement.
The highlight – strangely enough considering his cover of Feist’s ‘Limit to your Love’ was his debut albums strongest track – is his version of ‘A Case of You’ by Joni Mitchell. Using sparse production – here, only accompanied by piano – his vocals are at their bitter – sweet best; by turns stumbling and meandering.
Enough Thunder serves best to indicate Blake’s progress to date. While not too far removed from his comfort zone, and by no means a great advance in style or ability, it does show distinct growth. Although, to his critics, it could be considered very telling of his song writing abilities that his two strongest tracks are cover versions. But for now, the EP leaves his fans in anticipation of where this new, more focused Blake is heading with future recordings.