Despite him contributing to a number of projects that I enjoy, I never felt inclined to give his own music a listen besides 2019’s “Assume Form” (which, to be honest, I didn’t really care for). However, I found myself really enjoying listening to his latest album “Friends That Break Your Heart”.
This record finds the singer/songwriter/producer in a very melancholic state, one that is not unseen before in Blake’s music but definitely at its most impactful on “Friends That Break Your Heart”. We find James lamenting his lost friendships with each song getting increasingly introspective than the last. He doesn’t write from the point of view of someone going through the hardships in the moment but like someone resigned to acceptance of what has happened, which honestly makes it all the more heartbreaking. This reinforced by Blake’s signature minimalist pop/moody R&B blend, filled with minimal atmospheric synths, gloomy vocal harmonies, light use of drums, and of course James’s signature gentle falsetto. Honestly what makes this an improvement over his last album, in my opinion, is that James seems to have a better focus on songwriting which makes the experience less plodding. It really feels like we’re getting a cohesive experience detailing this part of his life. The main thing that gets in the way of me enjoying this further is what I feel to be a lack of dynamics. I know Blake’s developed a sound that is intentionally minimal and gentle and that’s what I think his strengths overall are, but sometimes during the album I wish there were moments of larger intensity or where the sound was more full, at least to break up the slower bits.
Overall, however, I think James Blake made a very enjoyable project, certainly one of the most unique of 2021, and while I don’t think I loved it as some others seem to, “Friends That Break Your Heart” is definitely a project that I’ll be revisiting and makes me want to finally visit his previous releases.