Back from ‘Exile’: Bladee and Whitearmor recapture their magic on new single

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Back from ‘Exile’: Bladee and Whitearmor recapture their magic on new single

Bladee - courtesy photo

Bladee - courtesy photo

Bladee - courtesy photo

Bladee - courtesy photo

Until recently, the only people who cared about Bladee were in his cult following. Fans of Bladee were restricted to sadboys and sadgirls drawn to the juxtaposition of his deadened autotune singing and glittering, hyper-melodic instrumentals. The niche cloud-rap/R&B style of Bladee and his more famous associate Yung Lean has kept them out of the eyes of most music publications, despite their growing popularity.

However, Bladee’s profile just recently jumped due to a less-than-ideal bit of press. YouTube’s most successful music critic, Anthony Fantano, slapped Bladee’s latest LP “Red Light” with a rare 1/10 score. “The only commendable thing about Red Light is that it’d be almost impossible to parody with a worse sounding version,” reads the video review’s description.

Normally, one bad review wouldn’t be worthy of note. However, as Bladee gets relatively little press coverage and Anthony Fantano has the largest audience of any single music critic today, the review could really shape Bladee’s image for time to come.

It’s a shame, really, because if any Bladee project undersells him as an artist, it’s “Red Light.” From 2013 to 2016, Bladee and his go-to producer Whitearmor were creating exciting, increasingly gorgeous music that sat at the forefront of auto-tuned alternative R&B. This cumulated with Bladee’s debut LP and masterpiece “Eversince,” a record whose gorgeous synthesizers battled thrillingly against aggressive trap beats and Bladee’s evocative lyrics.

“When I’m in your area, the flowers start withering / Ice world, everything glittering,” sang Bladee on album highlight, “Romeo.” Over the Vespertine-esque beauty of Whitearmor’s instrumentals, Bladee’s sentiments of yearning despondence resonated powerfully with listeners who struggled with depression yet found in art and nature a powerful, inspirational beauty.

Over the next two years, Bladee and Whitearmor struggled to move into new territory. Bladee’s smooth auto-tune flow became heavily predictable while Whitearmor’s production became streamlined. The experimental, amateur edge that instilled “Eversince” and previous projects with life slowly faded. The best work Bladee released after “Eversince” found him collaborating with other artists who brought a fresh edge to his sound.

“Red Light,” produced almost entirely by Whitearmor, was naturally Bladee’s least-experimental and least-rewarding project yet. It seemed that the magic the pair found on “Eversince” might never be seen again.

Thankfully, “Exile” proves that Bladee and Whitearmor can still make risky, engaging music. A-Side “Trial” ebbs and flows with a near-indecipherable time signature. Its jagged 808’s thunder and disappear thrillingly as Bladee begs for his life to “add up . . . make sense.”

It’s a startlingly vulnerable and reflective track that deviates from Bladee’s usual style where images take precedence over ideas. “Sentence,” while not quite as abstract, still stands as a strikingly mournful track from the pair. The glacier-like pace and chime synths recall “Eversince” without directly echoing it. Bladee’s layered harmonies and yearning refrain, “I don’t even feel like me,” make something new from familiar materials. If “Exile” is any indication of the pair’s intentions going forward, they’ll be able to turn the negative attention on them into long-overdue respect.

Rating: 3.6/5