Monday, November 7, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: James Blake - Enough Thunder EP

By Steve Jones.

Critically acclaimed, buzzed, and hyped dubstep/post-dubstep artist James Blake has returned with Enough Thunder, a follow-up EP to his debut self-titled album earlier this year.

Full disclosure: I was not blown away by James Blake, but it did possess moments I liked quite a bit, such as the opening track "Unluck" and all of its fantastic chord progressions.  And I did, on a artistic level, appreciate the fact he was obviously a forward-thinking guy who wanted to pave his own musical path.  I may not have been in love with that album, but I was anticipating his next move.

Cue eight months later, we now have his next move, and it feels like a step back, or at least a step to the side.

My favorite aspect of this EP is the way Blake creates some very evocative soundscapes with a fairly minimal amount of instruments.  The opening track is once again my favorite track here.  With a desolate and delibrate sounding piano and some apocalyptic electronic wailings, "Once We All Agree" achieves a darkly chilling atmosphere.  It sounds like Blake is singing to an empty planet.  The song itself is simplistic, but it works on the images it creates, and I would not mind at all if we see more of this direction from Blake in the future.

Unfortunately, the rest of the EP fails to be quite so evocative.  "We Might Feel Unsound" becomes too busy in an uninteresting way.  Similar to the preceding track, the structure is simplistic, but this time Blake layers on clicking and popping and that super-wub bass trick he used in "Limit to Your Love," but none of these effects feel like they add anything to the song.  I'm a huge sucker for complexly arranged and layered music (remember my glowing review of the newest My Brightest Diamond?), but the arrangements still have to have some place being there.

The Bon Iver collaboration "Fall Creek Boys Choir" is neat in concept, but the execution just bores me.  And I have no idea what is going on with that effect that sounds like a dog barking.  Is it supposed to be a dog?  Is that why it's placed with no regard for time signature or anything else that is going on?  Seriously, it seems like Justin Vernon and James Blake are taking a piss at the audience.  Now, I'm sure they're nice guys, but that's what it sounds like to my ears.  If anybody can help enlighten me, please do so.

As with the opener, the piano once again comes to the forefront in "A Case of You," but in a much different fashion.  Blake's cover of Joni Mitchell's lovely song is also quite lovely.  I think the piano and Blake's voice mesh together well, and the song is definitely a standout in that sense.  But that is also the track's problem, because Joni Mitchell's songwriting completely eclipses Blake's.  When he tries his entirely own hand at piano balladry in the last track, "Enough Thunder," it just pales in comparison to the memorability and emotionality of the song he did not write.  "A Case of You" is a lovely inclusion, but it also highlights the flaws of the rest of the EP.

"Not Long Now" has a killer first 20 seconds, and I actually like its use of space within its first half.  Rather than create a sense of openness, it seems to bury everything else in the song, which I find to be an exciting dynamic.  But as the song becomes busier, it loses that unique quality and just turns into a not-all-that-interesting piece of dark minimal electronica.  And, to completely contrast the first 20 seconds, the I don't like the last 20 seconds at all.

Enough Thunder is unfocused and all over the place in terms of style and quality, but I can forgive an EP for being exploratory, especially when the artist has already released a full length not too long ago.  I just wish the ideas I liked weren't so few and far between.  For me, the first track and the first half of "Not Long Now" are the most reflective of what I'd consider an interesting place for Blake to continue to explore.  Essentially I want more depressing and echo-y piano glitch jams.  As for the rest, I am looking forward to the day when Blake's songwriting is as good as those of the artists he covers, but that day has not yet arrived.

Score: Decent 5

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments!


  1. Funny.... I liked this effort.

  2. I think there's a lot to like about the direction this EP took. I'm pumped fort this dude's next full length.

  3. Bonnyvare and Jimmy Blake? How is this not an easy 10?

  4. Hey, I was the one who said it should be P4K's first 11.0. They dropped the ball, not me.

    Opie, I liked it more the first couple times I heard it, but I found less and less that I was still enjoying with each listen. The first track is stellar, though, and I should definitely be pleased if he explores more in that direction.

  5. quit making excuses for your obviously wrong score of this album.