James Blake has carved himself a cosy little musical niche; combining elements of soul with UK bass and dubstep. His measured style and impeccable production have seen him through rather well up to this point; he has thousands of adoring fans, is a critical darling, and has a Mercury Prize to show for it. His latest album, The Colour in Anything, is far from happy though. It is dense, sprawling, desperate, and utterly gorgeous.
A key point to note is that since his 2013 album Overgrown, James Blake has become a single man. This would become apparent by the end of the album with standout tracks Put That Away and Talk to Me, and the Bon Iver-featuring I Need A Forest Fire seeming to be in direct response to his feelings surrounding this. But this melancholic mood isn’t reflected merely in the lyrics: the production, whilst rich and full, also feels enormously cold and downtrodden. Due to this, The Colour in Everything can’t be considered an easy listen, hardly aided by its 76 minute length. It’s one for late night listens when it feels like there is nothing to be done, when you just want to be surrounded by the comforting arms of misery.
This probably isn’t selling it particularly well, but Blake’s ability to extract intense beauty from this sadness cannot be understated. The songs are still slow burners, but sometimes they build to something a lot grander than what you hear on his 2011 self-titled album. Love Me In Whatever Way has a wonderful crescendo on a synth organ throughout its progression bursting out of the confines of its own ruminations, whilst the closing track Meet You in the Maze finds just as much beauty in simple layering of the human voice. Its variety does not result in any dips in quality.
Blake feels more vulnerable here than he ever has done; his voice sounds like it’s about to crack at many different points, and he gives undoubtedly some of his finest ever vocal performances. It’s an album that completely justifies its length, it feels large and ultimately it is immensely rewarding to listen to. Blake has expertly crafted his misery into a brilliantly coherent musical work. You’d be hard pressed to pick a better album that has been released in 2016 so far.