A cathartic and punctilious effort that sees Blake perfect a method of expression steeped in flawless production and uncontrived sentiment.
It has been three years since James Blake won the Mercury Music Prize with his sophomore effort Overgrown, an album that revelled in an ethereal minimalist haze of raw emotion which Blake finds himself perfecting with his third album The Colour In Anything. There is an intrinsically distinct sound that Blake demonstrates with his craft, a meticulous method of expression that uses low intensity just as much as chaos to construct reverberated neo-soul songs that could pass for an explicit manifestation of Blake’s consciousness.
Before releasing The Colour In Anything Blake spoke with Radio 1’s Annie Mac about the apparent radio silence on his end while he focused more on collaborations; with Kanye West, Frank Ocean and Bon Iver. The album opens with ‘Radio Silence’, a minimal piano infused lament which teases an EDM crescendo that never fully immerses itself in that promise, instead remaining within the song’s raw aesthetic. From the start, Blake assembles all the elements fans and critics have lauded him for. In recent years the essence and appreciation of musical production has become just as important as the resolute body of art that it forms. With Blake and his peers alike; the computerised and vocoder infused style of production has been embraced and helped drive a wave of music that finds itself depicting a sonic landscape with an eye for meticulous production.
The Colour In Anything is still no stranger to that and it is the sound of an artist coming to grips with the millennial age and detailing his social anxiety in that very same context as he refrains “I can’t be selfless / I’m acting my age” on the hauntingly brilliant ‘Timeless’.
As the album continues to expose Blake in such a candid fashion, ‘Put That Away and Talk To Me’ confronts a reliance on weed that he claims rendered his new material lethargic and thus prompted him to arrange recording large chunks of the album with veteran producer Rick Rubin. Having promised Kanye West would feature on this album, Blake ultimately decided on having only one feature on the album, coming in the form of close friend and collaborator Bon Iver (Justin Vernon). Together, the harsh clarity of their falsetto tinged afflictions blends to create ‘I Need A Forest Fire’, a soaring and sublime downbeat groove.
In truth the album is an unsettling experience as it exudes a candour that plays out like a Lars von Trier film in some dystopian landscape. It stands separate from its contemporaries with a lull that is steeped in a rich manifestation of introversion and anxiety that is communicated through an often seemingly dissonant arrangement that never resolves itself on tracks like ‘Choose Me’ and ‘The Noise Above Our Heads’.
A unique yearning is present with this record, which is seldom found in today’s popular sphere of music, one that isn’t absolutely engrossed in the self-indulgent lamentation of one’s endeavours or quarrels. Instead it possesses a dualism of just that, and also a paradigm of alienation: it acts as an éclaircissement of the millennial age and its music- that is steeped in the cut and chop nature of its production. The Colour In Anything is undoubtedly Blake’s finest catharsis to date, with the Frank Ocean co-written ‘Two Men Down’ and it’s looming specter of dissonance, and the final track on the album ‘Meet You In The Maze’ which is entirely formed of various layers of Blake’s voice fed through a vocoder, creating a moody and hazy exploration à la Imogen Heap.
The Colour In Anything refuses to resolve itself but revels and succeeds in this by way of it culminating in something so sincere you would wonder if Blake gives us too much of a good thing. After three years since Overgrown, the surprise release of this effort delivers nothing surprisingly new, the surprise instead is steeped in the question of how Blake continues to produce bodies of work that are simultaneously harsh and muddy but yet meticulously crafted with an ear that appreciates the presence of silence in music and uses it in an effort that is not stifled by the weight of its ambition or tenacity to express and conceive so fluidly.
The Colour In Anything is out now via Polydor Ltd.