It feels like no coincidence that the recent heatwave we've had in the UK is met with rain clouds and grey skies upon the release of James Blake's third album 'The Colour in Anything'. An album that is so focussed and dedicated to its melancholia that it finds the listener surrounded by a bleak landscape, whether grey windows tapped on by rain or oppressive buildings as you find yourself walking down claustrophobic and damp alleyways. His third LP, which has been anticipated and sought for by many finds Blake at his most mature, particularly in reference to his infallible production style and restrained electronic murmurings of sub-bass and echoes of British dance music. Echoes which become so alien to their reference points its mesmerising to retrace tracks and still find rewards within his incredibly spacious and phenomenally textured songs.
Blake's familiarity is present in its seemingly old-fashioned approach to electronic music; a concoction of auto-tune, expressive percussion, minimalist piano and throwback sub-bass of a dub era. What makes this familiarity refreshing is the collaborative efforts which bleed into Blake's distinguished and wholly unique sound. Partnering with Rick Rubin as co-producer, with assisted vocals by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on 'I Need A Forest Fire', instrumentation from Conan Mockasin and writing credits from Frank Ocean, we find James Blake maintaining his monomania of prior releases but with its brilliance hidden within the detail. Those tonal shifts that skirt and whimper within each song act as moments of light within a thick fog seeming impossible to navigate. They creep in from the corners, and as a result 'The Colour in Anything' sounds like an artist content with his sound and at a point of meddling with it to achieve something much richer than we've heard before. As a starting point for what is on the cards for James Blake, it is incredibly exciting to see where else this collaborative process will take him in the future.
'The Colour in Anything' contains some of the best material he has released to date. Album opener 'Radio Silence' perfectly sets the tone, beginning with sombre piano and his glass-like howl, opening with the line "I can't believe this/you don't want to see me." Echoing Bill Withers' sentiment in 'Hope She'll Be Happier' about overcoming romantic disinterest. 'Timeless' expands on the darker dub sounds of the album by incorporating a half-trap percussion on one of the stronger tracks. However, 'Put That Away And Talk To Me' is probably his most interesting song here, a dissociative lullaby about weed dependency and obsession in regards to his introspective nature and artistry. 'I Hope My Life' will be likened to other big hitters like 'Digital Lion' and 'Voyeur' from 2011's 'Overgrown', and will no doubt be a fan favourite when it comes to his live shows. There is consistent quality throughout the album, songs such as 'I Need A Forest Fire (feat. Bon Iver)' which is one of the best white boy duets of recent memory, the harmony between James Blake and Justin Vernon is beautifully soothing.
Although there is a lot of fantastic music on here, 'The Colour in Anything' is an exhausting album to listen to. Its topics (as they usually are with Blake) prioritising unrequited love, heartbreak, loneliness and isolation are explored with simple throwaway lines that only occasionally stumble as poetry for roughly 80 minutes. It's strenuously works for its 17-track length to listen through once or twice, however I doubt its longevity as a record to listen to as a whole. That's not to deny that this is some of the best material he's released to date, but thematically it becomes a drudging prose of self-indulgence. There are glimpses of hope and self-acceptance within it, and fundamentally, as always with James Blake, it's an acceptance of sadness, and in some bizarre way making it sound cool to cry.
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