Album: Friends That Break Your Heart
Artist: James Blake
Label: Republic Records
Non-Airable Tracks: Coming Back (feat. SZA), Frozen (feat. JID & SwaVay)
James Blake’s 2019 record “Assume Form” was the album that got me into listening to new music. It still holds quite a significance with me, being one of my favorite records of 2019, and one of my favorite albums of all time. And even then, James Blake has become one of my favorite artists as well.
Upon the announcement of his 2021 record “Friends That Break Your Heart”, I was super excited to hear a new release from him, with a whole new slew of features and sonic textures. This was already super promising considering the lead single for the record, “Say What You Will”, showed itself to be one of his best songs, period. With a steady composition, growing with instrumentality as it goes, the track has this power to engulf the listener in its lush, rich synths and those angelic vocals from James Blake. Seriously, with the last part of the track where it’s just acapella, and he hits that super high note, this just might be his best vocal performance on a song. Absolutely, without a doubt. With lyrical elements relating to emotional vulnerability and timidness, the entire track feels essential in the James Blake canon. The lead single really gave me high expectations for the finished project, set to release in September.
The record’s lyricism focuses on the emotional aspect of interpersonal relationships, complimenting its nocturnal, melancholic, and mellow approach to songwriting. Its compositions are truly breathtaking all around. Opener “Famous Last Words” starts with a minimal color palette of plinky synths and a low rumbling sub-bass, and then James comes in with those amazing vocals as usual. The bittersweet chord progression that sounds like it’s out of a 90s synth pop ballad, and strings come in towards the end to signal a crescendo of beautiful melodies and a droning power. The second track was the second single, titled “Life Is Not the Same”, encapsulating a very vibey, lo-fi trap beat beneath it all, alongside a steady progression just like much of his works. There’s these little snip-its of pitch shifted vocals as well. And that chorus, he puts all the effort he has into the vocals here, belting a huge “Life is not the same when we’re miles away”. So much power being put into these brief but significant words.
With additional amazing tracks like “Lost Angel Nights”, “Foot Forward”, and “If I’m Insecure”, the record feels like a victory lap of sorts. That is, until some songs pop up here and there that aren’t quite as impactful. “Coming Back” exhibits a weak SZA feature, and some forgettable crooning from Blake himself. “I’m So Blessed You’re Mine” is probably my least favorite through this entire tracklist, as it feels more like a demo take than anything else. And yes, with a hugely apparent vocal repetition akin to his earlier material, like his self-titled, this feels oddly barebones. The ending is the best part, with an ambient, cascading string section. This is all I’d come back for here. Another weak link in “Friends That Break Your Heart” is the title track itself, being the second to last song in the entire album. I don’t find the melody here all that interesting, and the composition feels super low-brow.
Despite its few shortcomings, “Friends That Break Your Heart” is an introspective, lonely record with an ethereal, hypnotic tone. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the thick timbres and cautious vocal delivery here, and while it’s not the best James Blake album, it’s certainly a willfully brilliant showcase of artistic ability. Does he really need to prove himself any longer?
Video Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7jWhwf9a8E
Color: Green, Blue, Red
Blood Orange - Negro Swan
LUMP - Animal
FKA Twigs - Magdalene
Say What You Will
Life Is Not the Same
Famous Last Words
Reviewer’s Name: Trey Cardi
Date of Review: 10/7/21