The Colour In Anything
If James Blake attracted any new listeners as a result of his appearances on Beyoncé’s Lemonade, they might find his third album a bewildering experience. His fragile songs still have something in common with conventional pop music, but whereas his previous record, Overgrown, found him moving toward more accessible sounds, he’s now put his experimental tendencies back in the foreground.
Every time he comes close to writing a conventional piano ballad, he disrupts things with jagged textures, oceans of empty space or off-kilter sample loops. Love Me In Whatever Way gets its uneasy tension from what sounds like a fragment of a laugh track floating under his chords, while Put That Away And Talk To Me features a puzzlingly random sped-up and stuttered sample buzzing in the background of an interviewer asking, “Could you tell me about the early days?”
His odd production decisions mostly benefit his compositions, although at times he takes things too far. Two Men Down feels needlessly cluttered and dissonant, while the heavy vocal processing in Always is just distracting. At 17 tracks, the record is probably five songs too long, although we’re glad he found space for guest appearances by Frank Ocean and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.
Blake’s drums sound tougher and more rugged than usual, possibly thanks to Rick Rubin’s co-production assistance. The most memorable moment has no beats or samples, though: the gorgeous Vernon-assisted a cappella closing track, Meet You In The Maze. Magical moments like that prove that it’s not his quirky sound design that makes him special, but his ability to pack so much emotion into the silence between the notes.
The Colour In Anything is a good album that could have been great if Blake had been a bit more willing to edit and discard his less successful sonic experiments. Still, there are few contemporary artists this skilled at distilling loneliness and isolation.
Top track: Meet You In The Maze