Review: James Blake’s ‘Friends That Break Your Heart’

Nearly three years after his previous LP, James Blake is back and better than ever

James Blake Twitter | Photo Courtesy
The LP faced multiple delays due to the high demand for physical copies.

Since the release of ‘Assume Form’ in Jan. 2019, singer and songwriter James Blake has launched into a new stratospheric level of music by creating his own genre. While he has always created music in his own soundscape, few have pushed their creative limits to the extent that he did with his previous LP.

It launched him into new demographics as well, through collaborations with Rosalia and Travis Scott, as well as production being handled by rap-producer Metro Boomin on a handful of tracks. Yet when Blake set out to complete another boundary-testing project, his hopes were dampened by the ongoing global pandemic.

Being restricted from touring and collaborating with others in person forced Blake to think and act creatively while still using his musical outlet. This led to him staying active in music by taking song requests and performing free music for the public via Instagram Live during the height of COVID-19.

With these requests and virtual concerts taking off and keeping Blake’s personality in the mainstream eye, the alternative artist took advantage of his current situation and released an EP aptly titled ‘Covers’.

The short project contained soulful, unique takes on songs including “when the party’s over” by Billie Eilish, “Godspeed” by Frank Ocean and “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” by music legend Stevie Wonder.

After continuing on the creation of his next album for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, Blake finally announced the impending release of his fifth studio LP, ‘Friends That Break Your Heart’.

Having already faced multiple release setbacks due to the pandemic, Blake originally aimed for a release date in early Sept. However, the music industry was still facing a severe fallout in the production of physical copies.

With Blake being an outspoken supporter of vinyl and other physical formats of music, he chose to delay the album by another month for his fans to enjoy his latest creation physically.

After a single listen through the album, it’s clear that ‘Friends That Break Your Heart’ is one of Blake’s most cohesive albums in his career thus far. However, after multiple listens through the project from beginning to end, it’s arguably his best produced, arranged and structured LP.

With Blake taking the majority of the spotlight, he delivers soulful singing over forward-thinking production that pushes the ideas and concepts that we have of modern music. On ‘FTBYH’, Blake is seen expanding his collaborative list with extensive production assistance, as well as a handful of high-profile features that have been lent to him.

Features on the project include R&B star SZA, severely underrated rapper JID, along with SwaVay and Monica Martin. On the production side of the album’s creation, Blake brings in heavy hitters Take a Daytrip, Frank Dukes and Metro Boomin, along with well-known newcomers such as Joji and wife Jameela Jamil.

While there isn’t one specific song that drags the album down, there are a few standout tracks that shine above the rest. These include the emotional dedication to his wife and collaborator Jameela Jamil “I’m So Glad You’re Mine”, the slow-tempo R&B ballad “Come Back” with SZA, as well as the title track “Friends That Break Your Heart”.

Across the board, the production shines through. While this is great for Blake as a producer, it can distract the listener from the raw talent in his voice. This project has much fewer stripped songs compared to previous efforts such as ‘Overgrown’ and ‘The Colour in Anything’ that allowed his voice to take center stage.

While his efforts as a producer, notably credited on every track, are nothing less than extraordinary, Blake’s voice is buried on a handful of tracks across the album. In another sense, this also allows the album to be looked at as more of an experience rather than a singer/songwriter album. After all, production on an album is simply music without words, and Blake can do that much better than most artists nowadays.

While Blake may not be delivering any new music for years to come, fans can still hope to receive an occasional cover from him via Instagram Live. Furthermore, Blake can be seen on tour coming in the next few weeks, with the closest show being on Sept. 18 at The State Theatre in Minneapolis.

Review: 4.5/5

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