James Blake is a ghost. The British singer and producer will be here one minute and gone the next. He popped up on Beyonce’s newest album and has a residency on BBC Radio, but that’s about it. There hadn’t been any promotion for a new album, sans a few loose tracks uploaded to YouTube in the past year. That was until May 5, when Blake announced that his third album would be released that night. And with that, he quietly slipped into the world “The Colour in Anything,” his most unsheltered album to date.
Blake’s music is as bleak as it is beautiful. His soft voice is a whisper, often getting caught in his throat before slipping out between dangling piano keys and puttering synths. Utilizing repetitive chords and jittery rhythms, Blake crafts a secular and morose sonic landscape which only he inhabits. On this recent album, he allows in a bit of light.
“The Colour in Anything” is a sprawling affair, with a total of 17 tracks and a run-time of 76 minutes. Blake has worked alone on most of his previous music, but opens up this album a bit to others. Frank Ocean, Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver fame) and Rick Rubin all helped craft this album in one way or another. Ocean has writing credits on a few tracks, Vernon is featured on one, and Rubin helped produce the latter half of the album. Kanye West was also supposed to appear on the track “Timeless,” but this never came to fruition.
While the album is his longest, it’s also his sparsest. Many songs feature just simple instrumentation or a piano. “Meet You in the Maze” is completely acapella. At times this can get a bit monotonous, but overall Blake’s superb lyricism and silky vocals fill in this empty space. He whispers and croons before spiraling into a falsetto, or quietly moans in auto-tune, croaking out lines as if they were his last words. Blake takes bold steps in his vocal range on this album, and it works.
On “The Colour in Anything” Blake opens up his bleeding heart to the world. He battles with loneliness and missed connections, wondering what he could have done to have kept his lover. Toying with ideas like foreverness and redemption, Blake muses over past relations and how he could’ve saved them. But unlike his past work, these sad thoughts don’t echo in a cavern of dark synths he’s constructed. He touches on these topics frankly and openly, letting smooth melodies carry out his heartache. While mostly remorseful, the album isn’t without its bright spots. “I Need A Forest Fire,” featuring Justin Vernon, is an absolutely gorgeous track about starting anew. The warm, exuberant song is one of the best either musician has made in many years.
Blake took what he does best and tweaked it, resulting in a wonderful, rolling soundtrack to his current life. This raw album is a must-listen.