James Blake – The Colour in Anything
Released May 6, 2016
By Brendan Tuytel
In memory, details fade over time. The intricacies of how we feel in a moment are often overrun by a vague sense of state. While revisiting something in our past, the smaller factors seem little less certain until all that’s left is a general understanding of where we were at the time, what we felt, who we were with. While this is a fault in memory, capturing the moment gives the details permanence; an image of surroundings may trigger a flashback to the aromas and sounds. On James Blake’s latest album, the focus shifts from the broad emotions to the details, making for a robust, lush, and cinematic experience.
While Blake’s brand of gloomy glitch gospel has always been unique, what makes it stand out is the way he maximizes minimalist principles to create a sound juxtaposing grandiosity with simplicity. A hummed melody is repeated and contorted with climaxing vocals and synths to create a large experience from the most rudimentary building block. On songs like Love Me In Whatever Way, synthetic swells slumber amongst waves until the cacophony overtakes the hectic clashing of his voice. It beautifully creates an image, playing with the senses beyond melody, before breaking down into a melancholic outro, the whimper after the bang. Consistently, Blake builds scenery through subtle cues, exhibiting a much improved and varied style of production. Where previously he would work with crisp, clean tones, he imposes scattered static to create a more organically, defeated sound.
As much as this is an album about sadness, as is evident in the frequently depressive lyrics on love loss and loneliness, it’s also an album about empathy. The constant manipulation of voices and sounds capture the range of reactions to the lyrics presented soulfully, quietly cracking. These songs can be discording; overtly technical tracks seem at odds with Blake’s sincerity, begging to be put in the forefront in a raw form. This is done intermittently when he unashamedly strips away the grandeur to revel in selfish melancholy, as on F.O.R.E.V.E.R and The Colour in Anything. The variation keeps the theme fresh, constantly changing the formula, manipulating the scenery he builds, shifting the focus to a different element of his sound. Vocal heavy tracks precede heavy electronics with one simple lyrical hook.
However, the album teeters on the wrong side of excess. Despite clocking in at just under an hour and a half, it’s hard to pick out single songs as unnecessary; rather, it feels like some concepts are belaboured throughout. While the standout tracks are the most vibrant and rich, some seem to work from the same start point with little variation, often left too bare. Two Men Down goes too far into its own oddity with an off kilter beat and dog like bark, which is better done on Put That Away and Talk To Me.
Overall, the experience is one of soothing sombre sounds that bridges the conventional with the challenging. The way it presents songs touching on similar topics in consistently fresh new ways is unprecedented both within and outside of its genre. While it can get repetitive, it is only repetitive within itself. These are songs that would be considered equally innovative outside of the context of the album. These are songs that would be considered equally innovative outside of the context of the album. James Blake still carries himself with the confidence to be both bold and conservative, wryly withdrawn after booming bass bolsters piano hooks and layers of vocal harmonies. The Colour In Anything manages to build upon the solid foundation that made Overgrown a Mercury Prize winner by developing new production concepts that vitalize his sound, creating a fleshed out, detailed scene rather than presenting a feeling.