Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Review: James Blake's glorious new album

James Blake remains a master of romantic, soulful downbeat electronica
James Blake remains a master of romantic, soulful downbeat electronica

"I'm the opposite of punk. I've subdued a generation" James Blake told the Guardian last week. He said it with a laugh, apparently, but it's patently not true.
Blake's music is as powerful and non-conformist as any punk music, pushing the edges of what beautiful music sounds like.

It might be introspective and sonically focused, but it's also headily emotional and brittle and uncomfortable. He plucks at themes of alienation and being disillusioned by the spectre of daily life, but there's nothing subdued about Blake's work.

On his third album, the 27-year-old Brit is poetic and strong, his voice burning with frustration, or cracking with emotion, as often as it is tender or ethereal, and he manages to be bleak and haunting without ever wallowing in sadness.

Blake has described the album as a "coming of age", and indeed it seems that this album has even more colours, more shades of the human condition, beyond simple heartbreak or loneliness.

Radio Silence offers a catchy musing on the life long quandary of how we ever truly know another person, Timeless evokes an icy, white, wintry landscape filled with accusations, F.O.R.E.V.E.R charts the gentle evolution of a relationship, I Need A Forest Fire is a stunning collaboration with Bon Iver, and My Willing Heart is a truly high point, a perfectly modern torch song.

The way Blake combines electronica and modern RnB inflections with his timeless, romantic vocals was masterful on his first album, and remains masterful here - there may have been an influx of young artists wanting to follow a similar path in recent times, but Blake remains the best.

The album cover for The Colour In Anything was created by Quentin Blake
The album cover for The Colour In Anything was created by Quentin Blake

At 17 tracks and 76 minutes, it is occasionally meandering - Put That Away And Talk To Me has a promising post-modern title, and is full of glitchy sounds bent around a music-box like twinkle, but ultimately wanders a little too long. And despite containing the rather splendid line "I hope my life is no sign of the times", I Hope My Life feels a little constrained by its incessant pulsing beat.

However his glorious vocals, which are refreshingly to the fore throughout, are as distinctive as his use of piano, with his harmonies providing a beautiful pattern of tension and release. It's spellbinding, and somehow manages to play in the dark side of life, while also remaining light and free.

JAMES BLAKE
The Colour In Anything
(Universal)
Verdict: Even more shades of soul

- NZ Herald

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