I must admit, I never really understood what the big deal was regarding James Blake. However, in order to ensure this was an informed review, I gave his self-titled debut album my undivided attention, and I have to say, whilst not being overwhelmed, I was pleasantly surprised and above all impressed. Therefore, I imagined I’d be in for a small treat when it came to listening to his latest EP Enough Thunder. I wasn’t entirely correct.
The opener, ‘Once We All Agree’, juxtaposes a very ‘honestly’ recorded piano (you can hear the piano stool creaking, and the piano is in dire need of tuning) with minimalist whale-esque wobbles and searing string notes. This sparse accompaniment exposes Blake’s weak, relatively unmanipulated vocal. The vocal melody in itself is violently obscured by over-embellishment, to the extent that even Beyoncé might have trouble pulling it off. Gone are the encapsulating beats and rhythms that often tie Blake’s music together, along with the luscious vocal arrangements that can be found on his LP.
‘We Might Feel Unsound’ follows, and in this track we hear Blake deliver a stronger, less embellished vocal, accompanied by the signature post-dub production that has been absent so far. However, there’s not much else to the track and it soon becomes repetitive. In ‘Fall Creek Boys Choir’, the collaboration with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Vernon takes lead vocal whilst Blake accompanies with artificial harmonies and a minimalist beat, interspersed with perhaps slightly inappropriate sound effects (one in particular sounds a lot like a dog barking). Next up is a Joni Mitchell cover, ‘A Case of You’. Expectations are high, due to Blake’s all-hailed cover of Feist’s ‘Limit to Your Love’, which led to him being praised for bringing his own unique twist to the singer-songwriter genre. Here, however, Blake seems to veer toward the opposite direction, as this cover features only voice with piano accompaniment, both of which are untouched effects-wise. His vocal is weak, and while the piano arrangement is charming, it’s not enough to set this cover aside from anything you might hear on The X-Factor.
The EP rounds off with ‘Not Long Now’ and ‘Enough Thunder’, the former of which is something of a return to form — a collage of synth pads, drums, sounds effects and vocals, with a bass-led beat reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Feral’ gracing our ears towards the end of the track. ‘Enough Thunder’, however, is another vocal/piano arrangement, this time of Blake’s own composition. Due to the similar arrangement, I can’t help but compare it to ‘A Case of You’, and in doing this it is evident that Blake does not possess the same songwriting abilities as Joni Mitchell (though to be fair, few do). So after shooting himself in the foot somewhat, Blake delivers another weak performance and fails to do justice to his own song.
Perhaps James Blake has had ‘enough thunder’, and now fancies himself as a simple songwriter. If this is the case, though it’s not unachievable, he’s got a way to go, the first stop being some vocal lessons. A slightly (but almost inevitably) disappointing follow-up to his impressive self-titled album.