James Blake Experiments With The Convention On “Friends That Break Your Heart”



When James Blake went public with his self-titled debut album in 2011, he was a breath of fresh air for pop and R&B.

It fused electronic elements with both genres to create a lush and intriguing new sound. Topped by his soulful and angelic voice, he has been part of the most striking pop music of all time.

For me, each release after his first two albums saw less and less of the experimentation that made him so impressive in the first place. The quality was still high for the most part, but he lost much of the advantage that drew me to him.

“Friends who break your heart” is the culmination of this drift towards convention.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad album. In fact, it’s intriguing to see James Blake make a more traditional pop / R & B album.

Blake collaborates with well-known artists, such as SZA and JID, as well as major producers Boomin Metro and Take a day trip.

These collaborations have mixed results.

SZA’s contribution to “To recover” is mundane, and the rhythm has a similar uninspired feel. Blake’s voice ends up being the star of the track despite the SZA feature.

JID and SwaVay function on “Frozen.” JID’s verse begins with robotic effects on her vocals and is followed by a solid, if not too impressive, lyrical verse. SwaVay attempts to make a verse from the perspective of a mad Atlanta trapper with somewhat squeaky results. Blake sings the hooks and bridges here, and they contrast decently against the rap verses.

“Show me” is a look back at a relationship that didn’t work out between two people who have now changed for the better. This includes the latest album functionality, from Monique Martin as a female perspective, as she and Blake deliver a muffled but heartfelt duet on the lullaby-like track.

The best songs here aren’t the ones with vocal characteristics, however. Blake’s solo ballads stand out among tracks with other artists

The first two pieces, “Famous Last Words” and “Life is not the same” are both beautiful, spellbinding tracks with minimal drums and futuristic sound effects, topped with Blake’s emotional and touching vocals.

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“… I am so blessed that you are mine” mixes the ballad style with a faster drum pattern and melody. It has an almost playful feel, coinciding with the song’s more joyful theme in contrast to the rest of the album.

“Foot forward” produced by Metro Boomin, doesn’t look like something intended for Blake. It does quite well on the piano looping instrumental, pairing it with a lyrical rehearsal with themes of apathy and accepting loss, although that has an almost bitter tinge to me.

While each song presents personal and emotional stories from Blake’s perspective, the lyrics never deepen their themes.

“Say what you want” departs from the heavy vocal emphasis on the album. Blake opts for a less dynamic vocal performance in his first half, in exchange for a deeply personal lyrical exploration of his identity and insecurity. The second half sees arguably the most impressive vocals on the album, as Blake utters a lovely falsetto voice with the words “Say whatever you like” echoing in listeners’ ears.

To conclude the album, Blake gives us “Friends who break your heart” and “If I am not sure of myself.” Both tracks are heartfelt, sentimental, and seem like natural conclusions to the album, although something memorable is missing from the vocal performance or production.

At the very least, James Blake’s foray into the conventional draws the line between the experimental and the normal. It is a very pleasant and heartwarming auditory and emotional experience, if not for being mundane and sometimes muffled.

Rating: 7/10

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