James Blake - “Friends That Break Your Heart” Album Review
English singer, songwriter, and producer James Blake is back with his fifth studio album, "Friends That Break Your Heart." The record was finally released despite multiple push backs for unknown reasons, leaving fans wondering when Blake would deliver.
Not only did he pull through, but he exceeded expectations, dropping one of the best albums in his discography, and even one of the best albums of the year.
As the title suggests, "Friends That Break Your Heart" contains some of James Blake’s most compelling and heartbreaking material yet.
Blake’s approach to songwriting has vastly changed as he has been making commercial music for just over a decade. Originally, he formulated his songs around minimalist electronic and IDM grooves, but recent years have seen him develop in the likes of R&B, pop and hip-hop.
On “Friends That Break Your Heart,” Blake takes a crack at all three, and there is immense payoff every time that he branches into new genres.
He enlists producers Take a Daytrip and Metro Boomin to help build very subtle yet memorable bangers. Take a Daytrip’s instrumental is especially surprising considering it sounds nothing like anything they’ve come out of within the last year.
Unexpectedly, both tracks are incredibly eerie, mysterious sounding and are downtempo. Both “Life Is Not The Same,” and “Frozen,” are definite highlights with much replay value.
The electronic side of Blake has not completely disappeared either, with songs like “I’m So Blessed You’re Mine,” and “Lost Angel Nights” sounding like they could have appeared on his debut album. Tracks like these display that James Blake is following no rules.
He is in clear control of releasing the music that he wants his audience to hear, and that he will not play down to an elementary level. With his talent, there is no doubt that he could top the charts as a pop artist.
Thematically, “Friends That Break Your Heart” is a breakup album, and Blake carries the baggage from all of his past misfortunes. “I hope the person after | Gets all that you've held from me | They get to be a fresh start | While I'm another casualty” he sings at the end of “Show Me.”
On the whole record, verses and choruses are kept relatively short, but Blake takes advantage of this by making every word, phrase and stanza count. He is truly poetic, and one can hear the passion behind the lyrics in every track.
Blake has one of the most incredible voices in the entire music industry. He alternates from his chest voice to his falsetto seamlessly and is able to hold notes for an extended amount of time.
When his vocals are layered or distorted, even more emotion is invoked, almost giving a chilling feeling running down one’s body. On “Life Is Not The Same,” the instrumental cuts out as he sings pitched up an octave “So if you loved me so much | Why'd you go?”
There is a clear Bon Iver influence, but all of the glitchy and deformed vocals only add to the immense diversification that Blake’s vocal capability can reach.
His best performances come on two tracks in the latter half, “Say What You Will,” and the closer, “If I’m Insecure.” Both songs give Blake the most space to work with, and he effortlessly floats up and down octaves. It could make a grown man cry with the sheer beauty that is presented.
It was evident to see that Blake was selective with his features, and rightfully so. JID and SwaVay both go crazy, especially JID considering that this track was originally supposed to be on his most recent record.
Both SZA and Monica Martin’s vocals also blend incredibly with Blake, and the harmonizations are ethereal. Even Joji is credited for backing vocals, and as a whole, there was not a single miss.
There is very little to criticize on “Friends That Break Your Heart” aside from that an insignificant amount of tracks seem mildly forgettable. Blake went 12/12 on the album, with every song standing out for their own sole reasons. The title track is between two incredible highlights, so it was a little difficult meeting the expectations of everything else.
Overall, "Friends That Break Your Heart" is a monumental step of growth for Blake that best displays his creativity and talent to this day. It was clear to see that a tremendous amount of time and effort was put into this record and that the wait was worth it.
The album best reflects tragedy, hopelessness, desolation and heartbreak in a manner that is extraordinary. There are only so many times that an album so depressing can make one feel so good.
Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “Life Is Not The Same,” “Say What You Will” “Frozen (feat. JID & SwaVay)”
Reviewer’s Least Favorite Song: “Friends That Break Your Heart”
Caelan Chevrier is a second year majoring in journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Second Year / Journalism