On James Blake’s widely adored self-titled debut, the UK-based electro-soulster made a weighty impression with weightlessness. His best tracks, like the transcendent synth symphony “The Wilhelm Scream,” were quiet, aching expanses: Every programmed handclap and fragmented vocal loop struck straight to the gut, and the insular wunderkind rarely seemed in a rush. It was an unexpected—and totally gorgeous—album, and even through its chopped-up, mechanical dizzy spells, it felt strangely personal, like listening into an artful therapy session recorded on an iPad.
Enough Thunder, his follow-up EP, is just as sparse, just as quiet—but this time, the mood is hollow, the personality drained. Though his debut was frequently labeled “dubstep,” he never lapsed into the kind of dead-end repetition that makes so much of that stuff boring. On “We Might Feel Unsound,” the closer from this new five-song collection, Blake gravitates toward that aspect of his songwriting, but he comes across like an anonymous bleep-blip pastiche-weaver, stirring together all the sub-genre’s instrumental trademarks: chopped up vocal samples, vinyl fuzz, skittering snares, and (unfortunately) a large quantity of aimlessness.
Even worse are the two piano-based openers, “A Case of You” and “Enough Thunder,” which drop Blake’s distinct vocal effects and put his dry voice front-and-center. His warbled, Antony-minus-a-pitch-pipe moans grow irksome long before either track resolves. When Justin Vernon’s consoling auto-tuned croon lazily floats out in the ornate intro to “Falls Creek Boys Choir,” it’s first and foremost a relief. But even that tune, despite its lovely atmosphere and lonely beats, seems like an afterthought—or at least a Bon Iver b-side. “Not Long Now…” at least develops into something. Here, we start in Blake’s typical melismatic quiet, adding some pitch-shifted chirping and synth pulses, peaking but never quite crescendoing in a bath of minimal electronic rhythms.
All in all, Enough Thunder sounds like an “Everything Must Go” musical yard sale, Blake clearing house of all his unused ideas that couldn’t fit on a proper record. There are flashes of the brilliance that made the youngster such a trendy buzzname, but it’s hard work wading through the awkward muck.