James Blake – Enough Thunder

written by: October 24, 2011
James Blake - Enough Thunder Release Date: October 10, 2011


Trying to describe James Blake’s musical style can be a bit of a challenge. The term “dubstep” is inevitably thrown around like a hot potato, never dwelled upon too long, of course, seeing as no one can seem to pin down its exact meaning. That’s because it doesn’t have one. Let’s not even approach “post-dubstep.”

Blake’s self-titled album, released in February, made the London native a substantial force in his hometown, a silent hit on our side of the pond, and a bona fide indie-electronic sweetheart to us all. Now he’s returned with his much-anticipated—and slightly disappointing—follow-up EP, Enough Thunder.

What made Blake’s self-titled album so rich and fresh was its approach to R&B. He melded his confident and smooth vocals and bluesy melodies with a rhythmic disjointedness; several different distorted percussions built tension while his deep voice remained in easy, lax control over the entire sound. It was an experiment in structured chaos that simply glowed in the “dubstep” dark.

While it is never the greatest (let alone fairest) idea to judge an artist’s newest release against his or her prior ones, Enough Thunder leaves a listener wondering where that pulse—or whatever that certain crave-worthy energy was that oozed out of Blake’s first album—disappeared to. Whereas his self-titled release had that innovative percussive element that helped make his solemn R&B sound so new, this EP features even more lax vocals—melodies that sound largely improvised, even—over almost no percussive tension. The effect is somewhat less than stimulating. Without that pulse that Blake formerly crafted so subtly and well, the heat of his music goes out. With all thunder and no lightning, how beautiful is a storm?

The low, languid piano tones that structure the opening track, “Once We All Agree,” again come off somewhat like Blake sat down at the piano and decided to wing it, like he chose four chords and stuck with them, allowing his voice to explore whatever realms and rhythms (or lack thereof) he pleased. And that’s not a terrible thing; Blake does have incredible pitch and a rich timbre that is absolutely butter-smooth. But what made the impending release of this EP so exciting was the expectation of continued production innovation; his vocals never carried his sound or stylistic mission. Now that they do, that sound has become a bit limp.

On the EP’s title and last track, “Enough Thunder,” Blake hits the mark it seems he was aiming for in the previous five songs. His R&B bent is brought farther to the front at last. His vocals finally shine in communicating this gospel-like melody, the soulful element of which is what was, frankly, missing from his other voice-and-piano-alone piece, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” that feels a bit awkward in timing.

All of this said, Blake remains one of the most exciting artists to watch as he further develops his style and decides what he wants to say to the musical world.

This EP is certainly quite different from what he seemed to be stating in his first album. It is not as strong, but it is certainly not unintelligent, either. It is not an EP to be replayed out of love or innovation, but it could be a step toward something larger, some sound that Blake still needs to discover himself. At the moment, though, a few listens of Enough Thunder is more than enough.

James Blake – Enough Thunder tracklist:

  1. “Once We All Agree”
  2. “We Might Feel Unsound”
  3. “Fall Creek Boys Choir”
  4. “A Case of You”
  5. “Not Long Now”
  6. “Enough Thunder”