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ALBUM REVIEW: New James Blake EP pushes experimental boundaries

James Blake’s new EP "Enough Thunder" is the softest, most lo-fi, basically bass-less collection of tunes the UK artist has released thus far.

Skrillex fans need not read on; there are no back-breaking wubs and wobbles on this EP.

It’s not uncommon to have a vocalist recording tracks with a producer. The fact that Blake is doing both by himself is impressive in itself. He has a foot in piano and songwriting, and the other foot in production. This album leans more toward the former.

Following his self-titled LP, Blake takes a different approach this time around. "Enough Thunder" feels more like a set of well-composed songs written to illuminate Blake’s piano skills and vocals rather than the more dubstep-like unbearably sexy, heavy bass beats found in the former album.

Songs are ballad-like, within which are several movements moving fluidly from one to the next, separated by a short silence.

His rhythm and blues vocals are soulful, though incomprehensible and unquestionably melancholy. Blake is a manipulative magician who is always messing with his own voice, making it just as dynamic electronically as it is naturally.

“Once We All Agree” is the long introduction to the album. The song's piano is as dark as the black on the keys, and even bubbles a bit like older Blake. The song sets the pace for the next 25 minutes of extremely low beats-per-minute tracks.

“Falls Creek Boys Choir” is one of the better tunes on the EP and features Bon Iver. As might be expected, mixing Bon Iver’s and Blake’s vocals sounds like a melting double helix of extreme vocal talent. It’s dream-like, trippy and spacious. An ample amount of auto-tune is simply for effect rather than lack of talent, and helps push the experimental bounds of the tune.

“Not Long Now” contains more electronic elements than the rest. Distortions of Blake’s voice, including the high-pitched manipulation of it, flirt with key elements that are largely missing on this EP — the kind of elements that made Blake’s former LP extremely popular. It also feeds an appetite hungry for a heavier bass.

The EP ends with the bass-less track “Enough Thunder,” which is a heartfelt, emotional and beautifully sad feature of Blake’s singing over a grand piano. The only comprehensible line being the repeating, “we can hold the heartbreak now.”

Though this album is much different from Blake's former work, it is worth listening to. The album overall is spacious, drawn out and features more pad-like percussion elements than the usual heavy, deep bass. It could be compared to Radiohead’s "Amnesiac," but it is more abstract.

This experimental extremity is either a foresight into his next full-length album or just a personal display of Blake’s favorite styles that test the limits of his fans.

Genre: Post-dubstep/Electronic Rating: 3 out of 5 stars