Eclectic British musician James Blake is back with a 5th album, Friends That Break Your Heart. Perhaps his most straightforward offering to date, it achieves exactly what it is meant to...


James Blake is one of those names you will find in informed conversations about contemporary electro-pop musicians — of the more experimental and singular variety — among The xx‘s and Alt-J‘s of this world. Indeed, Blake has become in recent years an established figure in this indie-electro-pop scene, showcasing both remarkable artistic mastery and a desire to push the envelope. To that end, he often delved into rather deep and somewhat intriguing sonic worlds. Whether or not you are a fan, the one thing you can’t say is that it’s obvious. Or straightforward. Or any other bad word of the sort.

This month, after Covid-related delays in physical production (still…), James Blake’s 5th studio album, Friends That Break Your Heart, finally comes out. To be fair, his previous album, Assume Form, was released in 2019: that’s a fairly reasonable amount of time to wait in-between albums. That being said, Taylor Swift released 2 albums in under a year, so the jury’s out. In any event, Blake’s latest LP is interesting in many ways. For one, it is as always very stylistically satisfying, with extremely polished tracks carefully highlighting the various elements, vocals, instruments, beats that constitute them. Quick nod to the musician’s vocals, which are delicately demonstrating what can be done with a pop voice without doing too much (even if the harmonies on “Say What You Will” are arguably, and quite satisfactorily, more than). The right amount of sophistication, really.

The other thing that will strike you upon listening is how consistent this album turns out to be. The atmosphere you find filling those tracks feels extremely cohesive, one of slight melancholy, measured sadness, a very British way to express grief if you will. Also, these tracks are rather… straightforward. In other words, the melodies you will find on Friends That Break Your Heart are undoubtedly appealing, in a more direct way than Blake may have gotten us used to in the past. Which we are not here to criticize in any way: lead single “Funeral” is a beautiful, if rather subdued track. Same goes with the title track, with a wonderfully intimate acoustic arrangement. Guest artists only contribute to that feeling of a communal sound, including the electro-rnb stylings of “Coming Back”, featuring the omnipresent SZA. Even on more electronic-leaning tracks like opener “Famous Last Words”, you will find that Blake is not trying to complicate the listener’s path, rather embrace him in this music journey.

In this year (these years?) filled with surprises, hurdles and misunderstandings, this album comes as a welcome relief — of the more subtle variety.