Having finally released his debut LP early this year, James Blake now returns to the EP; the format that he released a trio of last year which drove his rise to prominence. Anyone hoping to hear a return to the sound of those three EPs on Enough Thunder will be disappointed, but Blake has always approached his music looking forward at where he’s going to go next and never looking back. Enough Thunder is no different, although on this occasion it seems his path is not as clear to him.
Blake tries a few different routes here, the most prominent being the piano crooner. Three of the tracks here centre around Blake at a piano; undoubtedly Blake is a great singer and piano player and it wouldn’t be long before we got to see more of it. On opening track “Once We All Agree” he distracts from the simplicity of the voice-and-piano sound by adding whale-like noises and vibrations as an undercurrent, which don’t really add the kind of atmospherics he’s looking for, and rather seem superfluous. The other two piano-led tracks, “A Case Of You” and “Enough Thunder,” are more affecting due to their unwavering focus on Blake’s vocals and lyrics. Seemingly a little self-conscious of this on the former, Blake turns up the theatrical aspects of his voice, sliding quickly, almost erratically between registers mid-line. The song is originally by Joni Mitchell*, and it is about seeing a loved one as a drink that he’d be more than happy to drink a case of, could be accused as being “cheesy” or “cringey,” especially laid bare in such a way, but just as Blake was unafraid to release it, listeners should be unafraid to see its quality. The title and closing track finally finds the balance in simplicity by adding nothing more than a little echo to his vocal which pitches beautifully between the piano’s silences, using the same trick that made his cover of “Limit To Your Love” such a success.
As for the rest of the album we hear Blake trying out a couple of different ideas. “We Might Feel Unsound” has the same bubbling, erratic quality that was found on his old EPs, but this one has Blake singing over the top in both organic and digitally edited forms – a needless act that takes away from a song that otherwise is reminiscent of his roots in music. “Not Long Now” is another ballad, this time sung over oozing synths and those whale noises returning from “Once We All Agree.” The kindest thing to call it would be “peaceful,” but that would be a nice way of saying that it’s uninspired.
And, of course, there is the Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) collaboration, “Fall Creek Boys Choir.” Vernon has one of the most ubiquitous voices in indie music currently, and this familiarity – even when autotuned as it is here – attracts attention instantly. The way the vocals are layered over the initial build up of simple drums and other percussion is masterful and closest to the quality of Blake’s solo debut, but ultimately there is no big payoff a la “I Never Learnt To Share” and the song ends up drifting off unspectacularly. It would have been nice to have heard both men’s voices contrasting and complimenting each other, but ultimately this will have to be chalked up as a missed opportunity.
James Blake has been touring relentlessly since the release of his album this year, and can’t have really had time to sit down and put a focussed effort into his work. Enough Thunder therefore strikes more as an EP through which Blake has got off his chest a few random ideas that he had kicking around, rather than a focussed release meticulously recorded and put together in one concentrated session. Although this may be a relative disappointment it should not be looked at as the start of a decline, but merely a curiosity in the collection. When we get the true follow up to James Blake you can be sure it will be much more consistent than this.
*added after original publish