Album Review: James Blake - Before EP

Bridie Lonsdale reviews the latest EP from James Blake

Bridie Lonsdale
27th October 2020
insta: @jamesblake
Released on the 14th October, Before sees James Blake return to the acclaimed artistry of his early electronic club-roots which firmly established his career as a DJ. It's a well received and welcome return; recently released solo material including 2019 album Assume Form has seen the producer move away from contorted post-dub beats. 

On opener 'I Keep Calling', a-likened by critics to Blake's CMYK released a decade previously, Blake samples Canadian artist Charlotte Day Wilson’s 'Falling Apart', the primary material with which he constructs layers of ambient, distorted vocals. Shot through with an infectious, pulsating beat, there’s a notable confidence which sets it apart from those early releases.

Born out of the frustrations and limitations of lockdown, ‘Summer Of Now’ offers an embrace and acceptance over what has been, and what is yet to come - holding neither in higher regard than the other. A rising warmth seeps through soft vibrato vocals paired with synth organ to open up the track, before breaking away from and offsetting nostalgia for summers gone-by with a cut to and urgency for “now”. 

Deep house track 'Before' takes blissful lyrics like “Nothing’s in vain ‘cause I’ve never had it this good before” juxtaposed with creeping, horror-like string motifs and classic dance breaks as just one of example of the ways in which Blake plays with form and genre on this latest release.

Such experimentation is also at play on 'Do You Ever', a track co-written with Nico Muhly. It's difficult to single out any particular track on such a strong EP, but the simplicity of Blake's vocals against the deep pulse of synths in the breakdown of the second verse - into a deep pensive lull, creates a moment of intimacy on a track confronting insecurities and memory, thus making it a personal favourite.

4/5

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