Not Long Now - James Blake - Enough Thunder (2011, Atlas)
After its announcement a bit over a month ago, James Blake’s fourth EP Enough Thunder finally comes out today. As well as containing his blog-friendly collaboration with Bon Iver, Fall Creek Boys Choir, and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You, the EP contains four new tracks.
James Blake’s releases all feature musical hallmarks of a basis in british dubstep/bass music, and a piano-based avant-garde pop aesthetic. However, they are also renowned for jumping around stylistically. His first few EPs barely featured any non-sampled vocals; whereas his soulful vocals pervade, even define his later self-titled album. But anyone who thought that his album was the start of a move away from his bass music roots and was quickly answered by his singles Order and Pan, which saw him stripping his production right back to produce two brooding, minimalist, and purely UK bass tracks.
What then is Enough Thunder? On the surface, it’s closest to his self-titled album. Indeed, a couple of the tracks are simply Blake at a piano, with his haunting voice subjected to only the barest post-production. But then with other tracks he starts subtly incorporating the more experimental, electronic side of his earlier EPs; with bits even echoing his purest electronic release of Order and Pan.
However, the one thing that the EP really explores is something that was already one of his most notable stylistic hallmarks: open space. In a way the EP is an obvious comment, even backlash, against the noisy dubstep that’s currently topping the charts and storming the US, of which he discussed with The Boston Phoenix a few days ago:
The things that drew me to dubstep in the first place weren’t necessarily the kind of testosterone-driven environments that you got from say, late jungle or some of the drum ‘n’ bass stuff that was happening after that. I think the dubstep that has come over to the US, and certain producers — who I can’t even be bothered naming — have definitely hit upon a sort of frat-boy market where there’s this macho-ism being reflected in the sounds and the way the music makes you feel. And to me, that is a million miles away from where dubstep started. It’s a million miles away from the ethos of it. It’s been influenced so much by electro and rave, into who can make the dirtiest, filthiest bass sound, almost like a pissing competition, and that’s not really necessary.
Dubstep is definitely still a big influence in Enough Thunder, it’s just intentionally not the first thing you pick up in the music. Take this track, Not Long Now. It begins very sparsely, with Blake’s vocals accompanied by subtle, surging synths. But if you listen a bit more closely, he’s backed by the kind of pitch-shifted vocals that are one of the biggest trademarks of bass music. And before long, a muted but uptempo hi-hat is introduced, building up to what one could, at a stretch, classify as a dubstep ‘drop’. But it’s muted, almost sub-sonic. It’s not the immediate focus of the music, and far from the in-your-face drops of ‘frat-boy dubstep’. Instead of the focus being on the drop, and achieving the “dirtiest, filthiest bass sound”, you can hear the track for the beautiful piece of music that it really is. Just don’t play this expecting people to dance to it.