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James Blake is back with The Colour in Anything and it’s a divine lesson in artistry and innovation

The dream of every artist is to have their vision and stylistic projection realised through their art and respected by fans and peers. James Blake is the rare musician who has successfully sold the world his own brand of weird and made us like it.

JamesBlake

With such meticulously arranged sounds and silences, James Blake’s inventiveness and knack for perfection are at an all time high on The Colour in Anything

The musical community have come to massively respect Blake’s talent. His list of collaborators now includes names such as Brian Eno, Beyoncé, and Frank Ocean among others, and it’s easy to see why. Our favourite electro-minimalist with the voice of an angel has outdone himself with his latest, The Colour in Anything.

From his early work, formed from a background of UK garage, two-step and dub, to his last two full length releases – with far more vocals and ambience – watching Blake’s career has been like watching a windshield un-fog. The evolution of his sound has become clearer and clearer and the new record is the culmination of Blake’s musical experience.

While he may have originally struck listeners as a shy, artistic type making noises in a dark room with an array of keyboards, laptops and drum machines, the Blake sound has become fully realised. Safe to say, his music now belongs in a stadium.

Lucky for Australians, you won’t have to wait too long for the experience. Blake is touring off the back of the release, hitting Splendour in the Grass 2016 as well as performing sideshows on the East Coast in late July. After listening to The Colour in Anything, we’d say he’s not one to miss.

Fans of the self-titled James Blake and Mercury Award winning Overgrown will feel at home on their first listen of the album, with Blake’s trademark, stripped back and dubby drum patterns along with trippy vocal loops, beastly synths, twinkling grand piano arrangements and stylish silence shining through as strong as ever.

The opening track, Radio Silence, rings heavily of past hits like I Never Learnt to Share or The Wilhelm Scream, with looped vocals and subtle hi-hats keeping the beat through the song’s opening. It builds into fat, pitch-modded string-pad chords, gracefully balancing listeners on a fence between sombre vocals and soaring arrangements.

Blake continues to straddle form and genre throughout the rest of the record, slipping between bare bones vocal ballads and the minimal, ambient electronica he has become known for. The closing track Meet You in the Maze is the former, featuring a solo vocal performance from Blake, devoid of any instruments or percussion.

It was co-written by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and makes for an extremely strong finish to the album. Vernon’s other collaboration, I Need a Forest Fire, is an equal standout. With Vernon himself joining Blake on the mic, this one is a sure hit.

Choose Me is a potential favourite, with dramatic vocal loops taking the position synth chords would regularly occupy in similar Blake songs, showcasing the inventiveness the artist is respected for. A simple electric drumbeat permeates the track, transforming what would otherwise be another vocal exhibition into a more driven head-bopper.

Exquisitely produced electric drums are a true highlight to the album. Simple beats, yes, but there is beauty in their subtlety. The tones were obviously chosen with much deliberation, and tend to influence each track in a major way while leaving the front of the mix reserved for vocals, piano and synths. A punchy kick, an off-beat clap or jazzy high-hat goes a long way in The Colour in Anything.

As much as fans of Blake’s previous work will love this album, the problems for artists like himself is that weirdness, however interesting. James Blake and Overgrown showed us that despite hard-core critical album acclaim and single-digit performances on the album charts, Blake’s music rarely breaks into the singles chart.

Will association with names like Bon Iver, Frank Ocean (co-songwriter of two tracks from the album), as well as his recent collaboration on Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade bring him further to the forefront of the pop space? Whether or not this happens, James Blake is surely one artist we can count on for holding his musical integrity through such success.

His albums have been a slow defragmentation of his style, a three-course ride through the perfection of his composing skills. The Colour in Anything is 76 minutes of blissful proof.

 

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May 25, 2016

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