For years, the pendulum has swung back and forth in James Blake’s music, from beautiful ballads to bass-heavy beats. Friends That Break Your Heart will still leave the listener unclear on his overall direction but say what you will… Blake is a generational jack-of-all-trades and a songwriting master.
As we age, friendships become difficult to manage. Jobs move us miles away from our nearest and dearest. People change. Responsibilities outgrow notepads and planners.
In 2015, Blake moved to Los Angeles, 5000 miles away from his life in London. His new album is a heart-breaking tale on losing, outgrowing, and missing old friends.
Friends That Break Your Heart runs a little over 43 minutes and features the likes of JID, SZA and Monica Martin. The cover art, while terrifying for anyone suffering from trypophobia, is an accurate depiction of the album’s raw and disjointed messages.
Gone are the days of his saw-toothed electronic experiments. Instead, swirling crescendos and enveloping harmonies dominate the bulk of this album as Blake builds on the songwriting capabilities he showed on the 2019 release Assume Form.
The eery opener ‘Famous Last Words’, starts with a melancholic synth, cascading around the stereo field. Blake’s haunting falsetto feels dejected as he laments over the pain of losing someone close. “You’re the famous last words // I wish I never uttered,” he sings.
The album opens and closes with groomed pianos moving gracefully behind Blake’s gentle harmonies. ‘Say What you Will’ and ‘Lost Angel Nights’ steadily waltz around the ear and show a mature Blake finally coming to terms with himself and the people that have hurt him.
“I can find my way with no superpowers // I can take my place without becoming sour,” sings a content Blake.
A couple of days ago, he took to Instagram to publicise a twitter-rant from his girlfriend, Jameela Jamil, after fans questioned the authenticity of her production credits on the album.
“I was a DJ for 8 years, and studied music for 6 years before that. You are part of the problem of why women don’t pursue producing,” she writes, frustratedly.
In fact, alongside her artistic direction, Jamil was responsible for helping Blake network with female singer Monica Martin, whose feature on ‘Show me’ is nothing short of captivating.
‘Coming Back’ with SZA takes each artist’s respective styles and blends it into a colourful pop-trap fusion about wrongfully returning to a relationship out of comfortability and misguided hope.
This is Blake’s most straightforward and predictable album. It boasts cohesion and maturity but it won’t appease any of his cult followers who demand Blake returns to his club roots.
As well, the album staggers like a greyhound sprinting in intervals. ‘Frozen’ features two spellbinding verses from JID and SwaVay but unfortunately, the track sticks out like a sore thumb as it proceeds the most personal and heartfelt ballad on the album, ‘Funeral’.
Blake’s songs are usually retrospective. So, it’s difficult to immerse yourself in an ongoing battle as he croons and nostalgically critiques his past mistakes.
Assume Form was a proclamation of love, an optimistic update on his mental health. Friends That Break Your Heart is a man clearing out his closet and quickly looking back to the past as he journeys into a brighter future.
Words By W.P Millar