Editors’ Notes Years before James Blake was widely regarded as one of pop’s most inventive songwriters, the young Londoner was a virtuosic beatmaker, stretching and manipulating drum samples and vocal loops into meticulous, clubby abstractions. It wasn’t until earlier this year, after a stretch of conceptual projects and live arena tours, that he felt an itch to return to the DJ booth. There was only one problem: COVID-19 had shut nightlife down. “My timing was awful, but I was still yearning to make that kind of music,” he tells Apple Music. “Lockdown almost put me into overdrive. Finishing this EP was a response to how frustrated I was not to be able to go to clubs.” Before is a tight, uptempo taste of what Blake has been feeling lately—restless, reflective, blissfully in love—with flickers of the skittering, head-nodding flourishes that marked his early dance-floor-oriented work. Read on as the musician, who now lives in Los Angeles, talks us through each track.

I Keep Calling
“This is the song that got me thinking this would be an EP, because it tied in so many different influences—a little UK garage, a euphoric rise in the production that made sense with the song ‘Before,’ and so on. It was the very last track I made in the studio before lockdown, and the only track from this EP that I was able to make in that live, fun, collaborative environment. Those moments are the ones I miss the most.”

Before
“This is ultimately a love song, but it's also about the larger relevance of someone in your life. What it means for who you are, or who you can be. The lyrics are like, ‘I don’t have to keep receipts anymore/I don't have to stand by the door/Because you're my family.’ That sense of security can free you, whether it’s in a romantic relationship or in a community. And when you start thinking about community, therein lies the connection with dance music. Clubs make people feel a sense of belonging, of being surrounded by people who are all being moved by the same thing.”

Do You Ever
“I was looking to piece together something of a dance-floor nature and went back into some of my old beat ideas. I found this little piano loop with nothing around it—that's what you hear at the beginning of the song—and it just stayed with me. Nico Muhly contributed some string arrangements at the end. Every now and again I write these slightly desperate songs like ‘I'll Come Too,’ where I'm just like, ‘Ah, I'll come anywhere, I'll follow you anywhere.’ And here, the lyric ‘Do you ever think about me?’ has that same sense of hoping someone still has you in their thoughts, and almost not believing that it might even be true, hence the ‘Really?’”

Summer of Now
“This is almost like the post-rave or the chill-out zone, with an indie side that keeps it from feeling too clubby. There’s also more of a post-punk influence, maybe a little bit of Suicide or Joy Division. The lyrics are fairly biographical and tell a story about this forlorn, lovesick reflection—recalling this time of waiting in the lobby for someone and them never seeming to come down. But it’s told with a bit of distance, from a new place, where you don’t just wait around forever for someone to love you. When I sing, ‘I'm not the summer of 2015/But I can be the summer of now,’ it’s putting whatever romantic idea that you had of me to bed. I think I’ve had this experience many times in my life where I looked back on a relationship or a friendship and thought, ‘God, I wish that had happened now. I would have been so much better in some way.’”

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