“It’s a strange time to release music,” James Blake says in the Cadillac Escalade ad below that includes a preview of his new EP, “Before,” which drops Wednesday. “I still want to give people music — I still want to have that release myself,” he continues. “I demo all of my new stuff in the car, and there’s nothing more satisfying than making something, whether for myself or someone else, and then jumping in the car and listening to it.”
He then does just that, premiering his new EP, “Before” for a selected group of fans in Cadillac Escalades equipped with a state-of-the-art AKG Studio Reference, while they were (unknowingly) being chauffeured to a private, socially distanced show in a hangar, where Blake performed the EP for them at a grand piano on a circular stage surrounded by spotlights — his first public performances since his solo tour late last year.
You can hear a preview of one of the songs, “Do You Ever,” in the video below.
Despite the intimate, voice-and-piano setting for the concert, the EP, called “Before,” is actually a throwback to Blake’s London clubbing days and the angular electronic dance music he created and DJ’ed earlier in his career. The songs feature pulsating loops and beats and faster tempos than his most recent album, “Assume Form.”
Blake said about the Cadillac spot, “As a musician I’m lucky to be able to do what I love and bring people music however I can, so finding a creative way to bring my new EP to fans with Cadillac made me happy, especially considering the current circumstances. With live music on pause, not only did it feel incredible to be back on stage again, but it provided some of my fans with a properly unique music experience. Everyone wins.”
An accomplished singer, songwriter and pianist, Blake made his name early this decade with a series of experimental, electronic-based songs that only hinted at his background, which is a combination of Laurel Canyon folk singers like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, crossed with ‘60s R&B and his classical piano training. He began fusing the two disciplines with his self-titled debut album and especially the 2013 song “Retrograde,” both of which scored him his first Grammy nomination, for Best New Artist. His music has evolved over the course of four albums — three of which have reached the top 10 in the U.K. — the most recent of which, “Assume Form,” scored a 2020 Grammy nod for Best Alternative Album.
Yet in recent years his profile has become arguably bigger due to a series of seemingly unlikely hip-hop and R&B collaborations, including tracks with Travis Scott, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Vince Staples, Frank Ocean, Andre 3000 — and not least, “King’s Dead,” a tag -team with Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar and Future from the “Black Panther” soundtrack that won a Grammy last year.
During a wide-ranging interview with Variety late last year, Blake spoke at length about the new material he’s been working on, and a stellar new song he premiered on the solo tour called “Say What You Will” — which is not on the EP and presumably will be included on his next album, whenever that arrives.