By Kiah Easton, Editorial Director
Key tracks: “Don’t Worry”, “It Girl ”, “Only One”
333 came without any warning, following EXETER, released only months before. Lacking a promotional lead-up, it comes with no expectations but delivers some of Bladee’s most expressive and melodic tracks thus far. Shedding all collaborations, even close friend Ecco2k, 333 is a closely expressed creative vision from Bladee and executive producer Whitearmor.
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Immediately different from Bladee’s past work, “Wings in Motion” breathes the project into existence gently with a lofi acoustic guitar sample and soft almost whispered vocals. The lyrics are emotional and poetic “Wings in motion, far from before / I’m on my hands again, the lonely fall / Again, again, all through the night / Ripples broken, wings in motion,” painting a picture with ease.
“Don’t Worry” follows “Wings in Motion” like sunlight breaking through dark clouds. Warm, bouncy samples intertwine under fluttering hi-hats and drawn out vocals. The low end fills out in the chorus, accompanied by additional meshed layers of percussion. Bladee’s voice sings “Please don’t worry,” retreating farther back in the sonic atmosphere, slipping into the warmth of the song as a whole before coming back to the forefront in the second verse. “Say a prayer; Adam and Eve, me and Bladee,” Benjamin Reichwald separates himself from his artist persona Bladee, acknowledging the duality in fame and artistry while comparing himself to the biblical Father and Mother of all humanity.
With similar warmth and texture, signature sounds of Whitearmor’s production, “It Girl” begins with a set of lofi drums and samples. The production opens up and brightens alongside the introduction of Bladee’s voice. Verse and chorus juggle the contrast in Bladee’s vocals. The verse, dark and drowning in the instrumental against the chorus piercing out, high pitched and poppy. “In this world, you gotta work to be the It Girl /Are you down to let it go? We can do it . . . Still water in the well, keep it moving / Bladee coming out the shell with a new skin.” Bladee’s lyrics express his struggle with fame as well as his changing musical style, shifting from a darker “drained out” style, to a brighter more positive way of expressing himself.
Much like the beginning of 333, “Only One” features soft guitar, warped by the process of digital production. Loose and less deliberate than on other songs, Bladee allows his voice to drift over the ambience of the guitar, transitioning slowly into a sparkly soundscape. Rising into release, this soundscape shapes into a softly pounding trance drop as Bladee sings “Only one at the top, it can get so lonely / When you’re the only one / Had to try once again and keep on trying / Tried but this one works.”
Once more, Bladee seems to reflect on the difficulty of navigating the fame he has acquired. “Only One” is accompanied by a video shown below. Contrasting shades of gray and heavenly sunlight run alongside the musical transitions from dark to light. Bladee dances alone on the top of a mountain, covered in fog, next to a great body of water. The imagery reinforces themes of loneliness and transformation.
333 continues to separate Bladee from the dark stylistic amateurity cultivated by Drain Gang members in their teenage years, while still preserving some of the unique sounds he and his collaborators pioneered. Brighter and more melodic, Bladee is “coming off the shell with a new skin.” Much of the album feels representative of this metamorphosis, playing with the contrast between darkness and light. As Bladee emerges from his stylistically dark period of music, his sound is becoming more evolved and expressive as well. Every song on 333 brings innovation and beauty without disrupting the cohesion of the project as a whole. With 2020 only halfway through, Bladee has released two full-length projects. With this level of productivity, his evolution into new styles of artistic expression is inevitable.