James Blake performing at Melt! Festival in 2013https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Melt-2013-James_Blake-11.jpg

Whenever we talk about falling in love, we tend to highlight the beauty of finding that one special person among almost 8 billion people on the planet. But when thinking about our closest friends, we so often forget the amount of luck that goes into meeting a person we later become best friends with. After all, stars also had to align for us to feel a connection with them at a particular moment in our life. James Blake’s fifth LP reminds us of the value of friendship and that certain friendships can also be called love. Without knowing the title of the album, almost every song on Friends That Break Your Heart could be read as an expression of the sorrow of a longing lover coming to terms with a breakdown of a relationship. In this way, Blake conceptualises stories of his lost friendships as love stories that have the power to break our heart even more than those of our lost lovers: “And as many loves that have crossed my path/In the end, it was friends...It was friends who broke my heart.”

“Most of... [the tracks] have a surprisingly conventional structure... which feels a bit too safe for Blake’s music”

To me, James Blake has always deconstructed the form of a sentimental ballad. The ballads from his previous albums consistently contain an element of surprise – a jarring beat, or a sudden change of pace. This discontinuous structure, for me, resulted in the rejection of pathos in Blake’s ballads about unreciprocated love and heartbreak. Although still heartrending, they did not try to jerk tears, as often happens with many pop ballads. And this moment of disjointedness is what the ballads on this album, such as the eponymous “Friends That Break Your Heart” or “Lost Angel Nights” are missing. Most of them have a surprisingly conventional structure that is in most cases coherent and well-thought-out, but which feels a bit too safe for Blake’s music. His new album still delivers its listeners a mixture of electronics and instrumentals but departs almost completely from his purely electronic roots. For some, this album may seem the most coherent from his body of work, but personally, I miss the apparent disharmony and discontinuity from the artist’s debut album or Overgrown.

The music video for "Say What You Will" features FINNEAS in an acting role, and explores Blake's propensity for comparisonYOUTUBE/ JAMESBLAKE

Friends That Break Your Heart can be seen as further proof of Blake’s desire to enter into the more mainstream circles of the music industry. It continues the project of Assume Form, which featured collaborations with some of the biggest names of today’s music scene, such as Travis Scott and Rosalía. However, the collaboration with SZA on this LP proves to be one of the weakest points of the record. The piano sounds at the beginning of “Coming Back” feel slightly heavy, and the voices of Blake and SZA do not really dialogue with each other, so the song feels less than a duo and more like a patchwork of rather random tunes.


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While Blake’s foray into poppier tunes might not be the most successful part of Friends That Break Your Heart, “Frozen”, a collaboration with rappers JID and SwaVay, stands out as one of the most interesting and genre-bending tracks on the album. Blake’s vocals feel as if they were coming from a distant place, adding a complex spatiality to the track. The bonus track, released a few days after the album’s premiere, a rework of “Funeral” with slowthai, proves even more heartrending with the addition of the British rapper’s gritty voice. Both “Frozen” and “Funeral” are proof that Blake’s collaborative projects with rappers are what he does best.

The lyrics of “Say What You Will” reveal the artist’s struggle with accepting that his music has never truly entered the mainstream. He has already left the niche, but remains somewhere in the middle ground, not quite attracting the same large audiences that his collaborators do. However, Friends That Break Your Heart will not change Blake’s liminal position in the industry since those unconvinced by, for instance, Assume Form, will not discover anything new or surprising on this record. James Blake’s loyal fans who, after his 10-year career, understand the artist’s emotionality are guaranteed to find comfort and shelter in the subdued sounds filled with profound sadness and grief. But those not ready to immerse themselves in the sea of melancholy will not particularly enjoy Blake’s 5th LP.