Album Reviews

James Blake – The Colour in Anything


There has always been something special about James Blake. Ever since his career began in a clutch of dubstep influenced EPs he’s been making music that means an awful lot to an awful lot of people. As he’s progressed, channelling our collective existential scream into a mournful but beautiful whisper, his resonance seems only to have deepened. His sound, one could even say his formula, of spacious, emotive music paired with his own haunting vocals are affecting in a way that is almost primal. Yet that description does a disservice to the intellectual construction of his music. True, there are no massive changes here; it is not surprising to find that a musician who deals in subtlety measures change in inches rather than miles. And yet Blake is still exploring the borders of his own immediate creativity, discovering landmarks and unearthing crucial pieces of his own talent. The result is The Colour in Anything and it is nearly perfect in every way.

Many of the tracks here are about love but, in true Blake fashion, they exist in a world of lugubrious intensity. Take the refrain from opener ‘Radio Silence’; “I’m sorry I don’t know how you feel” and then pair it with the totemic chant of “sadly you’re no longer her” in ‘Points’. There is no blame there, just the capturing of one of life’s ethereal moments. Yet the repetition, and Blake’s emotive vocals, embed the words with a wonderful urgency.

Perhaps Blake’s most impressive skill is to draw in disparate elements of music and distil them down to their most simply refined elements. In this way his sound incorporates genres while retaining harmony. Take ‘Timeless’ which sounds like a banger heard from another room but with the best hooks on the album or the hidden noughties garage of ‘Put That Away’.

From there we delve into the uncomfortable, nightmarish ‘I Hope My Life’ with an eighties synth that cuts across lines like “I hope I’m right when I’m speaking my mind/ I hope my life is no sign of the times”.

Again and again Blake conjures up moments from nowhere with breath-taking allure; the chorus of ‘My Willing Heart’, the gospel beauty of ‘Forest Fires’ and the clever mash-up ‘Choose Me’ which features vocoder groans that have as much to do with Future as they do Prince.

In fact it’s hard to disentangle the influences here, they are so deftly and ingeniously placed. Bon Iver makes more than a physical appearance of course but if you wanted you could pull out artists like Lykke Li, Destroyer and even Phil Collins.

It’s not a flawless album. ‘f.o.r.e.v.e.r’ sees Blake naked and amongst the beauty there’s a nagging melodrama that’s jarring amongst the nuance. Similarly, the title track ‘Colour in Anything’ just seems to bring the albums progression to a temporary halt. Yet these are vague criticisms, only possible when compared to the albums considerable strengths. If the second half of this album is not quite as engaging as the first it’s only due to a fractional drop in intensity.

On this record Blake makes the simple sublime and the enthralling seem effortless. Each note and each word is a balanced piece of a monument to anxiety, beauty, love, fear and discomfort. His best album to date and an essential listen for anyone with a soul. Eoghain Meakin