‘The Colour in Anything’ by James Blake Album Review: A Quietly Mesmerizing, Intimate Catharsis
James Blake‘s surprising third studio album The Colour in Anything arrives just shortly after his stunning appearance on Beyonce’s Lemonade with vocals and production on “Forward” and co-writing credits on “Pray You Catch Me.” The Colour in Anything, featuring collaborations with names like A-list producer Rick Rubin, Frank Ocean and Bon Iver, continues Blake’s streak in the big leagues.
‘The Colour in Anything’ by James Blake Album Review
The Colour in Anything carries the avant-garde electronic signature that is so characteristically Blake’s. The album’s whopping 17 songs make this Blake’s lengthiest and most ambitious project so far, which he delivers with confidence and unmatched authenticity. The seamless transitions between the tracks make the record a fully consolidated experience with very little that actually feels extraneous.
Opener “Radio Silence” plunges us right into the scene of lost love and sorrow. Blake howls his soul and heart out in between the reverberating electronics that thoroughly permeate the soundscape. The sparse, repetitive lyrics — soulful meditations on desolation — are the epitome of chilling simplicity. “Points” follows with a tender emphasis on vocals leading in before eventually giving way to a wonderfully textured sequence of throbbing beats and synths.
With an album that never holds anything back, to say that one song is superior to the rest is often a statement of partiality. “Love Me in Whatever Way,” however, is quite simply one of those songs that will stick with you because of their genuine poignancy and ability to reverberate in your brain long after it is over. Sampling Donny Hathaway’s “Giving Up” and weaving in his personal touch, Blake tentatively explores the cusp of musical surrealism; his haunting vocals are spacious and ever-expanding while his tenderness remains as visceral as ever.
“My Willing Heart,” on which Frank Ocean lends his expert ear, is equally expansive, opening up to accommodate the immensity of Ocean’s creative talent without changing the essence of Blake’s sound. The ease and prominence of the string section are the most distinctive contributions that carry Ocean’s signature, yet those reconcile effortlessly with Blake’s quirkiness. The track relates the uncertainty in the fragile sensitivity of falling in love. Ocean is also credited as co-writer on “Always,” which seems to bring more of Blake’s influence in its straightforward and electronic soundscape. In any case, the surprisingly pleasing collaboration between the two artists is proving to be creatively fruitful and exciting.
“I Need a Forest Fire” is similarly ad splendid project, featuring Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. The emotional poignancy is at its highest point vocally and thematically. The mercurial nature of feelings is subdued by the well-crafted blend of the two singer’s voices and the subject-matter of spiritual revival and optimism. For the remainder of the album, Blake goes back to firmer, less experimental and peculiar musical ground. “Noise Above Our Heads” is steady in its electronic execution. The title track is stripped down to piano and layered vocals and the closer “Meet You in the Maze” is laid completely bare of instrumentation, deploying once again the singer’s raw sensitivity and impeccable capacity for writing heart-wrenching, soulful and truthful depictions of love.
The Colour in Anything is nothing but the very essence of modern love and there is perhaps no other artist who can communicate the experience more accurately than James Blake. With the abstract quality of his avant-garde lyricism and the strong associations between emotion and tonal expressivity, the album’s goal is pure catharsis, which justifies its lengthy span. The Colour in Anything recreates pain and sorrow in an almost tangible, rich sound, emphasizing the quiet aftermath – a subtle optimism dominates after the dust settles, a faint silver lining traces the dark clouds of Blake’s melancholy soul.
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