James Blake - Playing Robots into Heaven
Oct 19, 2023
84
James Blake embarks on a spiritual journey of self-healing and liberation on his newest album, showcasing this by reaching into his more electronic roots and crafting some of his most experimental music since the self-titled era.

Playing Robots Into Heaven is the newest record from UK R&B and electronic singer/producer James Blake, following some massive features over the course of the year, with appearances on UTOPIA, Love Sick, and the SpiderVerse soundtrack. With these higher profile releases, I was wondering if we were gonna have another Assume Form/Friends That Break Your Heart type of record, but to my surprise, Blake changed his sound up quite a bit for this record, and I think it worked out for the most part.

This record is undoubtedly Blake's most esoteric record since the days of his minimalistic ventures on his debut album, but this record feels like he's really embracing his electronic/techno side in many aspects. There's many more aspects of UK/Future Garage here, ventures into UK Bass and hints of house/EDM, alongside Blake's usual moody and dissonant alternative R&B that he's been primarily rooted in for most of his career. However, this is easily his most groovy record in many aspects, as the dominance of electronic sounds makes some of these tracks... danceable in a way? Like we have tracks here such as Loading and Tell Me, which still have Blake's iconic dissonance and sorrowful melodies, but the synth leads and pseudo-EDM drops here are genuinely super fun, especially on the latter half, which sounds like depressive rave music in the most interesting way possible. There's even tracks here where Blake takes a backseat on his own vocals and uses predominant vocal samples, such as on the industrial and gospel influenced He's Been Wonderful and the Ragga/Dubstep/Trap influenced Big Hammer, which feels like Blake is making these experimental rave-like tracks, of which I can appreciate the experimentation, even if they're some of the weirdest tracks he's released in his career.

Obviously, it wouldn't be a James Blake record without your more dissonant alternative R&B tunes with tinges of art pop as well. The atmospheric and hypnotic opener Asking To Break feels like classic Blake, the airy atmospheres on this one are so soothing to the ears, and I love how Blake uses his own pitched up vocal samples here alongside his actual voice here, and he does this a few times on the record. I Want You To Know is another great example of this, going for a more UK Garage influenced sound, almost feeling like Blake's own spin on a Burial-esque track. It's quite great to say the least. Fire The Editor is probably the most "normal" track here in comparison to the rest of the songs here, a fairly simple, moody, but hopeful alt R&B/art pop tune that still incorporates the beautiful airy electronica that encapsulates this record. Definitely one of Blake's most liberating songs to date, he discusses how we censor ourselves from telling our whole feelings and thoughts on something, even if it kills us inside, that we should free ourselves from these shackles and just allowing ourselves to express ourselves, which translates here artfully on this track, easily one of my favorite songs from Blake. The following track, If You Can Hear Me is the classic James Blake piano ballad, and is a terse, but pleasing song on trying to learn form your mistakes, and not trying to let your painful thoughts get to your head too much. It's just so liberating to hear Blake in a more hopeful sounding environment, and it feels like it's translating nicely in his music too.

With the experimentation on this record, there are a few weirder tracks here that I'm still trying to fully understand, but I still enjoy every track here. However, I gotta say that He's Been Wonderful is maybe the weirdest song in Blake's discography, as the gospel samples paired with the minimalistic industrial synths are just so odd, I can appreciate what it's doing, but it's just so so odd to me still. Night Sky similarly have these very esoteric high pitched vocals alongside these glitchy and sprawling synths, just another super odd track from Blake. I also enjoy Big Hammer quite a bit, but it doesn't exactly feel like a James Blake track, as it's just so much different from literally anything else he's made, which includes the other trap production he's done for himself and hip-hop artists in recent times. Even then, these tracks are all unique in their own right, so I can appreciate them all at the very least, because they're still all solid tracks in their own right, just super odd.

And yeah, Playing Robots Into Heaven is another great record from James Blake. He shows that his creative bounds only seem to grow, and that he's in a place in life where he's healing from his pain that he's expressed through his previous albums. It's as entertaining as it is artistic and beautiful, and while he has some slightly stronger records in my opinion, it only continues to show how consistently great he is, and how he is one of the most talented artists of our generation. Thank you Mr. Blake.

TRACKLIST RANKING:

Asking To Break-85
Loading-90
Tell Me-92
Fall Back-83
He’s Been Wonderful-65
Big Hammer-78
I Want You To Know-81
Night Sky-73
Fire The Editor-100
If You Can Hear Me-90
Playing Robots Into Heaven-83

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