Ever since James Blake burst onto the scene at the turn of the decade, he’s been one of pop’s most creative forces. His ability to put together all kinds of different sounds into his compositions – from left-field synths to glitchy reverbs – and still make it pleasing to the ears is a testament to his talent as a musician. He’s so talented in fact, superstars such as Beyonce and Drake have employed his services since his coming-out party. For his 3rd album, titled The Colour In Anything, there are certainly some incredible arrangements. It wouldn’t be a James Blake album without some. However it’s Blake’s heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics that take center stage, which show the singer open up more than ever before.
Blake has always been known to be adventurous with his music (to say the least), and the singer-songwriter doesn’t stray from what he does best on TCIA. On the first track “Radio Silence,” Blake’s voice glides around various hi-hats, sweeping synths and his own soft croons, which on the surface look like they have really no business being together, but, much like Blake’s compositions, it usually all fits together just fine. “I Hope My Life,” sounds like it could fit right on a ’80s sci-fi soundtrack. The 4th track epic “Timeless,” finds James’ production at his most audacious. He begins with his signature downtempo drum and distorted bass, then transitions to some sparse electric guitar plucks and space-like synths, until ultimately reaching the climax: a high-pitched burst of a synth that will make you think you’re being teleported to another dimension.
The primary theme of Blake’s lyrics is love, and all of its facets. On “Love Me In Whatever Way,” Blake promises that he’ll do whatever it takes to make his beloved love him. “Where you lead me I will go,” he says rather directly. “Tell me where I have to go.” The pleading gets stronger on “Choose Me,” where you can essentially hear the yearning in his voice. “I know there are places I can’t go with you … I’d rather you choose me,” he cries. Blake also questions love’s longevity and whether it’s worth pursuing. “Don’t use the word ‘forever,’ we live so long to be so loved,” he cautions his current flame on F.O.R.E.V.E.R. On “Waves Know Shores” he addresses the latter. “You wanna know me like waves know shores,” he lulls over doleful trumpets. “I suggest you love like love’s no loss.”
TCIA has only one feature, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and he more than does his part on “I Need A Forest Fire.” The track centers around beginning anew and ending a failing relationship so both can attain what they really desire. “To burn it like cedar, I request another dream, I need a forest fire,” the two sing throughout the song while the phrase “another shade, another shadow,” echoes repeatedly in the background. While Vernon may be the only guest vocalist, fellow musical wunderkind Frank Ocean has writing credits on two tracks. The first one, “My Willing Heart,” has Blake wondering when to give in and accept true love, and if the subject of his affection is ‘the one.’ “How will I know? How will I walk slow?” he asks himself on the chorus; the haunting, atmospheric production matching the mood perfectly.
The album’s last two tracks, “Always” and “Meet You In The Maze,” are fitting closers to the project. On the former, also co-written by Ocean, Blake seems to be in his own bliss-filled dream world, finally past the bleak times mentioned earlier in the album. “It’s a sweet world, it’s so easy, and I’m not afraid, I’m not hurt … this is how I want to feel,” he sings over bouncy snares and child-like pianos. “Meet You In The Maze ” has Blake looking toward the future and whether or not the person he’s currently with is going to be in it; the ‘maze’ being a metaphor for life’s unknown twists and turns. The song is very minimal; only the profoundly dubbed layers of his voice can be heard. Both tracks carry a sense of optimism with them, which can only make Blake (and fans) hopeful of what’s to come in the future.
Clocking in at little over an hour, there’s a lot to process with this album. Couple that with the somewhat inaccessibility that encompasses Blake’s music, there’s no denying it’s a challenging listen. However, those who weather the distorted, electronic storm that is James Blake’s 3rd LP will be rewarded with an intimate and insightful look at where the artist is at in his life, where he’s been, and where he’s hopefully headed.