Continuing to surprise and delight with his limitless creativity, James Blake’s first album in three years, Friends That Break Your Heart, explores relationships, whether romantic, platonic or self-related. Masterfully produced with a textural deftness that ensnares the listener from start to finish, Blake clambers between new love, broken love, brave beginnings and retrospective reflection, before settling on the importance of “finding peace with who you are.”
Over the years Blake has managed to maintain a sonic signature – unpredictable melodies and moody atmosphere, as well as that voice – while still pushing the boundaries of his own experimentation. Opening here with the playfully experimental “Famous Last Words” (boppy and bright with bending, warped vocals) and winding towards “If I’m Insecure” (cooing and self-embodied), the overall effect is a relative softness compared to some of the more synth-heavy and chunky bass lines of his previous music.
The enthralling “Say What You Will” surrenders to understated instrumentation and dynamics, in a fitting reflection of the song’s theme of self-acceptance. Flexing his vocal range, Blake interplays between dense, deep melodic lines and lighter harmonic motifs, joined by clicks, steady percussion and legato strings as the song builds towards a spine-chilling falsetto.
Above all else, it’s Blake’s aptitude for capturing a mood that makes him so otherworldly. Friends That Break Your Heart somehow inspires a combined sense of empowerment and wistfulness, as well as the occasional need to bawl your eyes out.