One of the most promising artists who gained immediate recognition in 2011 was James Blake. Blake’s year was an unforgettable one that included nominations for the Brit Awards and the Mercury Prize (not to mention coming in second in BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll). He has received critical acclamation from websites just like this one (check out Our Vinyl’s Best Albums of 2011 if you do not believe the hype). It is safe to say Blake is one of the most talented and gifted artists we got to know in 2011. Between sold out shows, popular remixes and a bunch of EP’s, Blake release his self-titled full-length in February of last year and release 2 EP’s including Love What Happened Here.
Love What Happened Here is a very short collection (three songs) of a very different side of James Blake. This offering from Blake is definitely a lot more experimental in terms of his work. It is not so far away from his other releases musically but he is exploring his options, surprising listeners with an unusual sound.
The recent fixation in electronic music seems to be bass-driven and that is exactly what is happening on this release. For those who expected Blake’s soothing and beautiful voice, I hope that it does not disappoint you that this release is almost completely instrumental. There are loops and samples of his familiar voice (along with what sounds like a female’s as well) but there is nothing further than that and his words are nearly indistinguishable. Although I must stress that it does not downgrade this release in anyway, shape, or form.
Jame Blake’s Curbside
The title-track serves as an interesting opener, as it is reminiscent of that familiar sound of Blake’s self-titled debut. It is quite relaxed, with a familiar jazz and soul-oriented synth sound through out. It clocks in at just over five minutes and listeners might think there is a nice and relaxed pace that has been set. Then, Blake completely flips the script. “At Birth” is a sensational track that is primarily a house-influence track; it is groovy, and upbeat but at the same time ultra hypnotic and dark. As mentioned before, this is some of his most experimental work and this track defines that statement. Being amazed by Blake’s work up to date, this author truly believe this might be one of the most interesting and amazing songs Blake has ever released. “Curbside”, the EP’s last and perhaps finest moment, reminds fans of Blake’s dubstep roots. Take the relaxed harmonies of the first track and the unexpected, upbeat sound of “At Birth” and add a few head-nodding drum samples and you get this fine piece of work. What is fascinating is that although this track is reminiscent of the first two on the release, neither songs sound anything alike. His work on the three tracks might sound comparable and slightly similar but they each bring a very different piece to the puzzle that is Love What Happened Here.
The only negative thing one can say about this release is that it only contains three tracks (although that could be for the better). Maybe Blake kept it short and sweet and wants to create some sort of ambiguousness for us listeners. Who knows if Blake’s next full-length will have numbers on them that sound like these or if this was simply part of a creative process he wanted to try out. Either way, to say his next release is not highly anticipated would be an understatement. What is really challenging after listening to this work is trying to find the right genre that one would classify Blake under. This is not saying it is necessary that a musician needs to be labeled with a genre but the fact is we know country music when we hear it; we know heavy metal when we hear it and so on and so forth. Blake is obviously an electronic musician and you could say his music is electronic but if you were to be more specific…what would you choose? Bass, pop and even dubstep has been thrown into the conversation multiple times. Although one cannot be entirely convinced Blake is an artist who we can say is “this” or “that”. Take his remixes, his EPs, his special mixes for numerous radio and music outlets online and you will find this EP is a hell of a lot different from what you are used to hearing from him. It is less soulful (with the exception of the scintillating title-track) but at the same time full of that same emotion Blake brings to his work.
Is it an essential buy just like his self-titled release of 2011? Absolutely, even if you would consider yourself a casual James Blake fan. This author would suggest those who are new to Blake’s music familiarize themselves with his earlier work to fully appreciate this EP; his self-titled record would be just perfect for that. It is worth having it in your collection and if you liked his previous work, you will be surprised but satisfied at the same time.
By Alex Giardini