The 108 MICS staff share their thoughts on the Bladee’s latest record.
More so than any Bladee release before it, Exeter is a project that at its core revolves around brief, spasmodic bursts of songwriting. Many tracks here, most notably opener ‘Mirror’, are slow, hypnotic tracks that revolve around the repetition of a single phrase. The content of Exeter’s first track is hardly surprising given how reflective it is of the short, snappier musical direction that Bladee’s recent output has been heading in as of late (the majority of songs on Icedancer clocked in at under three minutes each), but it’s also quite a shock to the system after over half a decade’s worth of more fleshed-out, anthemic album intros.
That’s not to say that Bladee’s voice is any less impactful here than it has been in the past. On ‘Merry-Go-Round’, the flatness of his cadence recalls the bleaker, more extensionalist material on Eversince, while the subdued passion of ‘Every Moment Special’ ranks it amongst some strong competition as one of his strongest performances from an emotional standpoint. He even throws a few curveballs here, delivering his most digitally-affected vocal on ‘DNA Rain’. Of course Ecco2k’s cameos here are fantastic too, he dominates ‘Lovestory’ completely thanks to his dreamy, whimsical hook.
It’s amazing that I’ve gone this far into the review without mentioning the production, which is without question some of Gud’s best to date. ‘Every Moment Special’ bristles with a tantalising atmosphere unlike anything he’s contributed his talents to before, while ‘Imaginary’’s gorgeous synth backing provides the nine track release with a perfectly cathartic closer.
At merely eighteen minutes in length; Exeter is incredibly short yet sports an astonishing amount of detail, and yet it feels like a mere stepping stone towards something greater. When viewed in the larger context of the artist’s discography, Bladee’s latest release offers little that we haven’t seen before but provides us with a vital glimpse into what a more atmospherically-inclined full length from the Swedish artist might sound like.
– Chris (@108mics)
Bladee’s new album is so indeterminable that it barely feels there, but when it does take shape it’s some of his most conceptually active music yet.
Bladee is the Schrödinger’s cat of the underground. His work of late occupies a variety of superpositions; literal and figurative, approximate and exact, careless and obsessive. “EXETER” is Bladee’s most acute expression of this double form, to a great extent facilitated by tight and imaginative instrumentals from Gud.
Bladee presents himself in a variety of ways across the project’s 18 minutes. “MIRROR (HYMN) (INTRO)” pushes away the concept of consistent identity with Bladee singing; “Mirror in the way, ego in the way”. The character leading “EXETER” is decidedly not the ‘popstar’ Bladee seen on a number of recent singles, nor is it the hyperactive loner of “ICEDANCER”. Instead, Bladee becomes an unpredictable and malleable voice. His lyrics are cute for their simplicity and innocent tone, but interweave with open questions and esoteric imagery. His words lack the reflexive edge of past lyricism (“Perfect Violation”, “Fake News”), but are redeemed by inviting hypnosis. Notably, Bladee sounds happier here than on any other album in his discography. The second track, “WONDERLAND”, sees Bladee and Ecco2k set out new guidelines for contentment, singing “Give love a chance” and “It feels like summer all the time”. Ecco goes further than this though, acknowledging that happiness comes from “Innocence and evil superglued together”. This reframes the childlike wonder of “EXETER” as an artistically controlled choice, rather than a desperate grab at a life already gone.
It’s easy to get lost in the hazy toybox of “EXETER”. Its sonic palette is fairly tight, taking inspiration from music boxes and carnivals. Bladee and Gud are suitably playful, jumping from sound to sound; their relationship on the album ranges from symbiotic to coincidental synergy. “DNA RAIN” is the pair’s best meeting; Bladee calls back to 2013’s “Heal You // Bladerunner” with his frantic hook “I think, I can heal you” while Gud compresses and mixes his performance within a graceful hurricane of sound. “OPEN SYMBOLS (PLAY) BE IN YOUR MIND” is the only other instance where Bladee fully integrates with Gud’s fantastic production. It’s a song full of digitised clicks and beeps that set a constant and engrossing pace. Vocally, Bladee’s mantra “Be in your mind” washes the listener over and over again. He breaks into harmonisation in time with the beat’s organic expansions, and splits the repetition with mentions of “chalice[s]” and “challenge[s]”. It fights with “RAIN3OW STAR (LOVE IS ALL)” for the most beautiful moment on the record.
The conventions of popular music remain a suggestion to Bladee. His use of autotune is constant but more a part of his character than a tool for precision. On “RAIN3OW STAR” he chooses to stay on pitch entirely, on “IMAGINARY” the opposite is the case, and the rest of the songs fall somewhere in between. It’s almost never Bladee’s performances that really sell his music though, it’s the detail he crams into them. “MERRY-GO-ROUND” is delivered in an intimate whisper, reflecting topics of marriage and vulnerability. “IMAGINARY” captures the struggle of dividing reality from dreams with its rollercoaster cadence. “EVERY MOMENT SPECIAL” contrasts haunting synths with the record’s most loving lyrics.
Dreams are a major theme here. As the mind does when asleep, “EXETER” attempts to work through a great deal of subject matter but never comes to a clear solution. The project ends soon after Bladee realises he’s “dreaming in a dream”, unable to take control and go “deeper in the night” as he could on “Red Light”. The album closes with the same metronomic ping heard at its beginning, sending the listener back to the start having gained something immaterial, but left with more questions than answers. The chances are that “EXETER” will resonate with a great deal of those who listen to it. Its themes are broad and vocabulary vague; it draws no absolute conclusions. Entirely like a dream, its vividity, story, and meaning are left to the those lucky enough to experience it.
– Jamie (@youngjade1216)