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New Music: James Blake

By Jason Herring, May 19 2016 —

James Blake is an artist known to make a lot with what he has. His songs typically contain little more than the London musician’s soulful falsetto behind a sparse backdrop of either piano or an unsteady electronic beat. Even the big moments and huge drops scattered across Blake’s work are employed economically. But when his music does hit, it hits hard.Entertainment_JamesBlake-1

The most surprising thing about Blake’s third album, The Colour in Anything, is the scope of both the record itself and the songs it contains. The album runs almost as long as Blake’s first two records combined, and its 17 fully realized tracks are a far cry from the singer’s early sketches of music.

“Radio Silence” is a sombre start to the album, as Blake describes a breakup by weaving a number of different vocal lines together over an anxious and unsteady beat. “In my heart, there’s a radio silence going on,” Blake sings, escaping the emptiness of heartbreak in a loud, repetitive wall of noise.

Plenty of songs on The Colour in Anything move away from Blake’s signature disjointed downtempo grooves and into a more traditional R&B sound. Blake gets help from revered contemporary Frank Ocean for the romantic “Love Me in Whatever Way,” while the title track is a plaintive piano ballad that provides the most direct and beautiful lyricism of the entire record.

The album’s best track is the unfortunately named “I Need a Forest Fire,” a collaboration with indie folk darling Bon Iver. The song is a plea for change and rebirth, and there’s a strange beauty the metaphor employs about the regenerative quality of nature. It certainly doesn’t hurt that two of today’s best crooners harmonize on the track, either.

Only the album’s last song, “Meet You in the Maze,” marks a full return to Blake’s sparse songwriting. The acapella track is cryptic and contemplative, shrouding meaning behind poetic lyrics and a vocoder-altered vocal track.

The Colour in Anything is an exceptional accomplishment and statement from Blake. The daring and sprawling album cements him as one of the best pop artists of the decade.




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