- 08 Oct 21
English multi-instrumentalist continues to reshape the face of pop.
Whether through his solo work, or collaborations with Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean or Dave, James Blake’s divine purpose has always been clear – to deliver us from uninspired formulas and hits-by-numbers, by continuously pushing at the limits of modern pop music, with an approach that’s at once visionary and starkly human.
Largely recorded at his home in LA over lockdown, Friends That Break Your Heart takes a turn away from pop’s obsession with the building up and breaking down of romantic relationships, and instead explores the lesser-charted area of friendship, and the platonic love and loss we experience when people crash in and out of our lives. Each song delves into an emotional complexity just as wide-ranging as those experiences – existing in a space that can be uplifting, bittersweet and devastating all at once.
This central concept forms the undercurrent, but with skilful movement between styles and genres, it’s never stagnant or repetitive. On ‘Coming Back’, for instance, he switches from a sample of ‘70s pop-rock track ‘Lake Shore Drive’ to the vibrantly trippy, R&B world of featured artist SZA – before leading into the poignant, stripped-back ‘Funeral’.
Swinging between bold, futuristic sounds and aching vulnerability, there’s nothing safe about Blake’s approach. But even at its most innovative, Friends... never feels inaccessible. Rather, it places him at the forefront of a movement of fearless, non-conformist pop – as he continues to explore the balance between restraint and unpredictability, with dazzling results.