James Blake - Friends That Break Your Heart
Oct 8, 2021
Although more immediate, Friends That Break Your Heart is not a watered down pop version of James Blake, it is on the contrary a deeply liberating act that offers us this collection of ballads as hypnotic as emotional.

I would like first of all before launching into the analysis of this new album to specify that James Blake remains probably one of the favorite Pop/Electronic artists of this last decade and one undeniably underestimated. I find him very singular, in-fluent, bewitching, particularly endearing. However, it is not generally the treatment that the Londoner receives that creates significant differences of opinion. I can't really explain it exactly, but I think that Blake's way of interpreting remains an indisputable element. It's often purely sub-jective, because when you're faced with a very atypical voice and way of singing (like Sting, Bono, Chris Martin...), I think our ears will unconsciously make a very categorical choice and decide whether we like it or not. If you add additional elements that play against him, like the fact that Blake's for-mula is generally based on a minimalist process and also unfortunately for him that he is very popular, then we find that we already have some elements of answer. In fact, it is not a coincidence that I point out this next question, since the release of a new album of Blake for just 10 years now attracts the attention of listeners. I admire Blake's work because it is always done with seriousness, around different ideas and systematically dedicated to an evolution. That's why each Blake's album is different from the others, by its singularity without ever losing its great quality, and that's simply what I expect from Friends That Break Your Heart.

If the previous Assume Form (2019) was mainly focused on the love relationship he has with Jameela Jamil for a few years now, Friends That Break Your Heart is very individual, instrospective and deeply sad. For the blow James Blake proposes us a version without taboo of a personal questioning, articulated around a worrying anxiety, an insecurity and the sorrows of very marked hearts. Based on a relatively dramatic aesthetic, James Blake embraces his minimalist and versatile formula to deliver a rather disturbing intimate introspection, with strong elements like betrayal, fear, pain, and loneliness. Friends That Break Your Heart covers all of his personal struggles in a collection concise enough for the listener to get the gist of this dense and overwhelming experience. Writing-wise, never has a Blake album sounded so melancholy, even the excellent Overgrown (2013) when I think back on it whose similarities are obvious. However, to summarize Friends That Break Your Heart as a sad album would be a misjudgment, as it also has a few optimistic touches that bring a light of considerable importance.

Famous Last Words opens the doors to his secret garden, in a very minimalist and peaceful ballad. Whatever the illusion of deceptive instrumentation, we discover a devastated and distraught Blake. Even beyond the instrumentation, Famous Last Words is reflected against the grain of the painful theme, as if it were a story told in a posterior manner. That is to say, Blake's interpretation is confusing, in the sense that one has the impression of listening to a warm and sweet song, even when working with the chorus. Paradoxically, the story seems to be told some time after the event, as if Blake had had time to accept this situation and mourn these wounds. One can say that it is a mixture of resignation and acceptance. This contrarian way of doing things can be found overall throughout Friends That Break Your Heart, and it is also one of its main characteristics that makes it stand out from his past work.

The album then follows on Life Is Not The Same, an Alternative R&B song on a Trap in-strumentation signed Joji and Take a Daytrip, articulated around a breakup song. It is logical to make a direct connection with Assume Form, which marks the period where Blake introduces Trap elements in his formula. Although this is a fictional theme, I also find it coherent that Life Is Not The Same is a kind of logical continuation of the romantic climax of Assume Form. Honestly, I think that Life Is Not The Same is a great success because we also feel all the emotion and the technical ease of Blake to make this kind of song. On the other hand, we can also underline some limits in the fact that Blake remains in a comfort zone. Honestly, I was a bit afraid at the beginning to find patterns copied from the old album, because of the dominant Trap sounds, but overall Blake never really overdoes it. The great collaboration with SZA on Coming Back shows the talent of Blake as a songwriter and this applies to the whole album. Friends That Break Your Heart presents a more soulful James Blake than before. The songs as a whole promote and facilitate accessibility in more effective ways, but it also allows the listener to be more focused on the strong emotions the album offers. Funeral takes the example to its extreme, where we find a light ballad with a very backward instrumentation and the only cross-over melodies of its author. A song like this one before would have been built on unstructured effects, but here each song sounds overall as if everything was coated with a layer of marshmallow.

And finally this pure pop aspect resonates as one of the qualities of this album. I've al-ways appreciated the complexity and subtleties of the original Blake formula, but it must be said that Friends That Break Your Heart works like a sugar high. Frozen shows again the love of its author for the Hip Hop by coveting a JID in full form, and we feel that Blake takes pleasure in traveling in a new way. For that, the Londoner is of course accompa-nied by collaborator of weight, beyond the featurings, the production is in the center of the process of the concept, it is necessary that this one is striking, sensational. He can then count on his girlfriend Jameela, or on the producers Dominic Maker, Josh Stadlen, Metro Boomin or Khushi. We understand very quickly that this new album was worked meticulously, as usual, with a touch of remarkable intelligence. While the beginning of the album remains globally upsetting by its rather cold subjects, James Blake brings balm to the heart on several occasions like I'm So Blessed You're Mine. Finally when you think about it, if the more jovial moments have such an impact it is because the balance between the different emotions is perfectly mastered. The excellent Foot Forward proves that Friends That Break Your Hear tests a kind of tutorial to apply a giant band-aid and learn to heal its pain.

I will add the fact that Friends That Break Your Hear works by another balance, that of having been able to establish homogeneous limits but to leave each of the songs as a varied piece. This is how the adventure unfolds without getting bored. Show Me is a lan-guid ballad articulated around synthesizers for a hypnotic adrenaline rush. On the other hand, Say What You Will stands out for its optimism, its clear-sightedness and it's good to find some comfort for the contrast. Moreover this song already perfectly orchestrated puts in scene a Blake on a Pop Soul niche that he had never really exploited until now. These thus allow him to shine his melodies and melancholy as a true deliverance. The fact that Blake curls up on himself allows the author to offer really surprising melodic performances. We feel perfectly this intimate and closed ballad that proposes the atmospheric Lost Angel Nights, as if Blake was cut off from the world. The end of the album brings the concept of this new album to its paroxysm with very important pieces like the eponymous song and If I'm Insecure because it digs more than ever in the intimacy of its author. It's a little bit the moment of grace. To conclude, I will say that Friends That Break Your Hear is a very good satisfaction, even if it is not one of my favorite projects. It is solid, different and endearing enough to consider it another chapter in his career. Blake knew how to reinvent his formula and it allows us to discover another facet of an extraordinary artist.
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