It’s rare that you find excitement or interest around a three track release on a relatively obscure independent label, but such is the prolificness and popularity of James Blake. Here we are with Blake’s third notable release of the year, Love What Happened Here, and a return to R&S Records who put out his pre-LP material. Fans are probably hoping that this brief flip back over to R&S will yield more ambient or two-step dub music, akin to that which he has released previously on the label. While that is partly the case on this EP (there can’t be said to be any traditional singing), we can say, even this early in his career, that Blake is not the kind of person that goes back and retraces his steps; he’s always looking forward with his music.
The a-side of the EP, “Love What Happened Here,” is structured around the same keyboard sound that dominates James Blake, but it stays low in the mix forming a base for Blake’s other ideas to stand out. We get cut up vocals (some distinctively Blake’s and some evidently from another source), a plucky keyboard line and some sputtering handclap-style percussion. It’s all got Blake’s hallmark on it, but you’d be hard pressed to say which other song in his catalogue it most sounds like. Not quite dancefloor ready, not radio-friendly this song is the kind that will appeal to those who like to sit down and look for more than just a beat or a chorus.
The EP’s b-sides are an odd couple. “At Birth” is certainly the most driven track in this collection, working off a subtle throbbing hum and a nice repeated triplet of soft piano chords that come in and out of the song. All the hallmarks of a great house song are present in “At Birth,” but Blake keeps it low key by not adding a heavy kick or a more overt catchy melody of any form. Its repetitiveness only adds to the appeal, producing a relaxingly hypnotic number. Unfortunately this collection is let down by its conclusion, “Curbside.” The song is not relaxed like its predecessors, instead jamming together echoing drums, tinny samples of what sound like rusty horns and mewling cats, and an annoyingly drawn out vocal sample. It sounds like Blake is trying his hand at a Madlib-esque production, but lacks The Beat Konducta’s knack for making random samples coalesce, leaving it as an utter mess.
As with Blake’s EP from earlier this year, Enough Thunder, question marks can be raised as to why he has decided to release it. This being an even more insubstantial release than Thunder leads me to conclude that this is simply a release to appease fans of his older material. With a less cynical eye I could possibly see Love What Happened Here as an indication from Blake that he may be returning to more cerebral electronic music for his next release. Either way, fans will be glad to accept this triplet and know that the creation of this style of music in his plans.