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James Blake

Enough Thunder

Rating: 3.8/5.0

Label: Universal Republic

The meteoric career of James Blake has been tailed by accolades and upturned noses alike, but without question Blake has proven to be a musical phenomenon. Hailing from Britain, Blake spent 2010 building a following with the release of three EPs, most notably Klavierwerke, which established him as a purveyor of a moodier brand of dubstep, not of the Skrillex vein that’s gained fame here across the pond (one reliant on throwing down bass and spraying photon blasts from laptops) but through delicately layered introspective intricacies, the kind of brooding typical of Burial and his ilk.

As his self-titled debut LP hit shelves and hard drives in early 2011, the constantly adapting Blake took on a post-dubstep incarnation, one more prominently featuring his own vocals, organic or manipulated by Auto-Tune. But with this latest release, the EP Enough Thunder, Blake strays fully into singer-songwriter territory, abandoning the electronic gadgetry to instead spend the majority of six tracks perched on a piano bench, tickling the ivories and crooning.

Those more familiar with his earlier club-friendly work may be taken aback by the solemn tone of the introductory track “Once We All Agree.” Slow, deliberate chords accompany sub-bass that warbles as if conjured by whales lolling in the briny deep, but Blake’s vocal undulations serve as the most powerful instrument. For the most part, the lyrics are indecipherable, but those more concerned with words over sounds are missing the point. As is true with the majority of the album, melody is in short supply.

“We Might Feel Unsound” generates more electronic clatter than most other tracks, emitting repetitive mechanical noises like a wind-up toy stuck on carpet. The track exudes an experimental feel more characteristic of Blake’s prior work, while continuing to utilize his vocal prowess. And with the assistance of distorted vocals provided by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, “Fall Creek Boys Choir” epitomizes Blake’s distillation of emotion from sound, opening sonic space with a minimalist approach that injects poignancy to those few sounds chosen.

Blake’s much-lauded cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” from the debut full-length is mirrored on this EP with his version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Blake sings, “You are my blood, you are my holy wine/ You taste so bitter and so sweet/ And I could drink a case of you/ And I would still be on my feet.” Beautifully rendered vocals, along with piano in place of Mitchell’s guitar, allow Blake more focused emoting, articulated rather than simply felt in the pit of the stomach.

One of the few exceptions to Blake’s shift to sparseness is the second half of “Not Long Now,” where he drops into sub-bass with epileptic electronic lashes, a welcome juxtaposition of sonorous and dissonant tones. Blake wraps things up with the titular track, and by invoking the “Enough Thunder” title for a song that drifts into the dark, Blake drives home the message that he’s moving beyond the sound and fury of the club.

With an EP of songs stripped to their core and bereft of any frills, Blake creates a soulful six-track project that defies expectations while branching into new ground. But unlike his past EPs, Enough Thunder accompanies the flicker of candlelight better than the pulse of strobe.

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