Photo via Concert Photos/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)
At midnight in the U.K., English crooner and producer James Blake released his latest project, the expansive and lovesick The Colour in Anything. If you ask Twitter, it’s a home run—straight into center feels.
And if you’re not moved by this album, you probably haven’t been in a relationship involving feelings.
Blake initially broke into the British scene via his electronic production—brilliant in hindsight—by releasing three strong EPs: The Bells Sketch, CMYK, and Klavierwerke. The projects would ready his audience with the sonically diverse foundation he’s known for, taking some pressure off the angelic voice that carried the Mercury Prize-winning Overgrown.
Thursday's Colour features famed rock and rap producer Rick Rubin on the boards. Blake flew to New York to work with the legend, in an attempt to restart his engines. Eventually Frank Ocean, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and Kanye West became names attached the project.billboards in New York and London going up, Blake confirmed the midnight release of this unexpected gift on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 program Thursday. Along with posting the setlist on Instagram, he debuted a piano-trap ballad, “Radio Silence,” and the Vernon-assisted “I Need A Forest Fire.” And then it all hit Spotify.
It was a tough first listen. It's a potentially great record. But it gets you. Here are five big takeaways from the first spin.
1) Best track: “Love Me In Whatever Way”
Sampling Donny Hathaway’s “Giving Up,” and possibly borrowing from Bhagavata Purana, a sacred Indian love story, an impassioned Blake informs his love of his commitment to meet her where she is emotionally, against a busy cityscape. It's heart-wrenching and visceral.
2) Most important track: “Modern Soul”
Through his yearns and wails, he acknowledges difficulty in how his significant other has asked him to push on, and to love her, without rehashing a difficult past. Representing R&B’s way forward—where similar minds like Montreal producer Kaytranada and others utilize the empty spaces, creating just as much weight as where the note strikes—Blake's stabbing piano doubles as flare and foundation.
3) As great as James Blake is, there is a such thing as too much James Blake
Though there’s little fat on the 17-cut listing, it was likely worth cutting anyway—“Waves Know Shores,” “Always,” and “Meet You In The Maze” are fine as B-sides.
4) Once again, Blake works less with differentiation from his prior work, and delves deeper into subtlety and sonic gradients
He already knows what he likes, but constantly desires pulling from different angles, and in additional dimensions.
5) There’s a classic album hidden in plain sight
However, its length—at least on first listen—prohibits focus, as he’s spread his three-dimensional net so wide and deep to start. Love—even if only partially requited—reigns in Blake’s heart, and perhaps for that reason the difficulty of reigning in emotions led his decisions. Overgrown was a project of personal assurance in emotional and sonic extremes. Colour confirms and solidifies Blake’s uniqueness in displaying emotional poignancy and candor. For him, there’s valor in laying yourself completely bare for someone, knowing only uncertainty awaits.