Review: The Rosy, Upbeat Soul Of James Blake’s Return To The Dancefloor In ‘Before’

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James Blake | Before (EP) | Polydor Records

Release Date: October 14, 2020

Known for the loving, tender melancholy that shapes and morphs into velveteen vocals and kind, gentle ballads: UK musician and producer James Blake has built a foundation for his signature sound amongst a crystalline emotional expression, a soulful and personal experience that the artist gladly takes us on as he evolves and grows from one day to the next. 

Following the releases of his two singles earlier this year; the honeyed musings of ‘You’re Too Precious’ and ‘Are You Even Real?’ The songwriter has returned on Polydor Record with a brand new EP titled ‘Before’. The multi-faceted musician is unafraid of voicing his truths, which is an aspect of his music he presents to the world that instantly draws us in.

With ‘Before’ we see a clear evolution within his work, a growth introspective in nature that captures his day-to-day as we can feel a weight being lifted from him as the four track EP encapsulates feelings of club culture; the mix of the music, the movement and the connections we form – and how it affects us, as we follow his journey.

Despite many of us being stuck in quarantine for the majority of this year, his official video for the title track is a raw representation of reclaiming the circumstances in order to feel joy – it feels lighter, richer and charmingly personal as people from around the world dance without holding back, whether it be in their living rooms, bedrooms, gardens or parking lots.

 

The opening bubbling beat blossoms gently over time, growing steady and driven with a candy-coated lo-fi feel as Blake’s silken vocals, beginning as the powerful focal point, begin to flourish amongst the gradual layers of carefully woven electronic textural soundscapes. Playful experimental swirls and a witty use of ambience give the track a theatrical feel as it grows into a surprisingly anthemic whirlpool of synthesizer bliss. 

Tracks such as ‘I Keep Calling’ hold a similar move to a dancefloor-feel, with euphoric, upbeat pulsing house-esque beats blooming into immersive atmospheric layers, vocal samples cut up and studded across the track; saccharine in their jubilant repetition one could easily move to, yet retaining Blake’s signature soul.

Do You Ever’ captures a delicate, slightly heartsore R&B-esque feel; with shimmering harmonies complementing the artist’s voice in a similar manner to ‘Before’ as relaxed claps and affectionate percussion glimmer over the humble trip-hop aura of the beat, as it’s dotted with vocal cut-ups and a calm, meditative and reflective aura.

The EP closer ‘Summer Of Now’ sings with a softer melancholy than the other tracks, yet represents a slow-burning mix of genres as the quiet, singer-songwriter introspection gradually shapes into an anticipatory heartbeat, fast with reverberation within our chests as it retains the dancefloor feel in a truly unique style in Blake’s delicate, yet confident evolution and intriguing – wonderfully hopeful, open and rosy experimentation and return to the realm of dance.

Stream & Purchase Before (EP) by James Blake
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Rating: 8 / 10

Feature Image: James Blake by Max Montgomery

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