James Blake: Friends That Break Your Heart (Republic) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, June 1st, 2023  

James Blake

Friends That Break Your Heart


Nov 02, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

When you think about the most significant music artists of the last decade, your mind may not rush to James Blake. You may think of superstars like Taylor Swift, or Beyoncé. Or musicians that have broken out on an epic scale like Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish, or Ed Sheeran. Even if you have more alternative sensibilities, Blake’s name may struggle to get near the top of your list.

There is definitely an argument in support of him, though. Apart from releasing four brilliant solo albums in that time, he’s been steadily racking up a list of collaborators and production credits as good as anyone else around. He’s worked with Kanye West, Travis Scott, Frank Ocean, JAY-Z, and Bon Iver, among others. His impact on the world of music may be subtler than practically any of the above names, but, if anything, that’s what makes it more important and more substantial.

Arriving at the dawn of a new decade that has, just for kicks, begun with a global pandemic that has thrown normality out of the window from the jump, has been daunting for a lot of us. For artists like Blake, who have made no secret of their social awkwardness and introversion, this would surely be heightened. And so the theme of his name album, Friends That Break Your Heart, a through line, if you will, discusses exactly that.

In its best moments, all of which come, ironically enough, on the solo tracks of the record rather than the collaborations, this questioning and double guessing of himself really comes through. “Lost Angel Nights” and “If I’m Insecure” may present these ideas in abruptly on-the-nose fashion, but the ability to lay his soul so bare is Blake’s greatest strength, and presents a wonderful arc from the closed off compositions of his earlier records.

Where the album is on weaker footing is when it decides to let others in, in the form of collaborators. On 2019’s Assume Form, the exact opposite was true. Any guest spots—from ROSALÍA to Blake’s personal hero André 3000—elevated the album from great to something truly special. Here, with artists like SZA and Monica Martin by his side, these cuts feel like significantly less than the sum of their parts, and give the album a disjointed, fractured feel to boot.

Overall, there is still more than enough gold to be mined from Blake’s latest release. Singles “Say What You Will” and “Life Is Not the Same” reveal more of their majesty the more time you spend with them. They unfurl their beauty with careful consideration that rewards patience and faith in the track record of their creator.

It may present a lesser overall project—the first of his entire career, by the way—but Friends That Break Your Heart is the release of someone comfortable enough in their own artistry to develop uncomfortable ideas into compositions of unrivalled beauty. Blake remains a truly unique force in modern music. And for that we should all remain utterly grateful. (www.jamesblakemusic.com)

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