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The Earliest Bird: Top New Recorded Release 10-8-21 – 10-14-21, James Blake’s “Friends That Break Your Heart” Reviewed

If you found yourself dating The Good Place’s English actress Jameela Jamil, and if you could, I am sure you’d write “I’ll Come To” -a beautiful, deeply happy experience from 2019. It makes James Blake’s brooding, light baritone, much hated sadboy moniker nonsensical and his minimalistic electronic sound colorful and a dream. “I’ll Come To” is from his prior album 2019’s, Assume Form, a good album for sure but not the sum of its parts. 2021’s Friends That Break Your Heart, his fifth album, is better. It doesn’t peak high enough but it is, indeed, the sum of its parts, and it stands up exceedingly well next to his previous four albums.

Blake adds the intensity of Scott Walker to the melodic grace of The Walker Brothers, he keeps things reflexively simple on the surface so you can’t miss the song of the song while his production and arrangement are deceptive and filled with touches that second as hooks (try the clapping on “Funeral”), while he still has his romantic high hills even when that high horse is remembering an ex it isn’t that sad; a maturing of romantic conceptualism. Blake is the least pretentious and arrogant of musicians (see his hysterical video with Finneas Eilish above), that self-deprecation is very English and improves all his work.

Although a stinker of a live performer (here), it is that mumbling in the dark that makes him beloved of so many rappers: Kanye West, Jay Z, Travis Scott have all searched him out. He has a sound that when broken down to backing tracks adds depth. And while the featured artists on Friends That Break Your Heart are minimal, at the very least SZA is an excellent add on the breathy beaut “Coming Back”.

Third time through the album, I love the lot. Blake isn’t that old, he is just 33, and his improvement over a decade has been a steady leaning away from ambience and minimalism to a commercial sound that loses nothing. This is a major achievement and, since I haven’t seen him on stage since 2013 so who knows… maybe he has decided to turn up the lights and get from behind his PC? Maybe we should all come there too the next time he’s on stage?

Grade: A-

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