The last we heard from James Blake was his critically acclaimed album, Overgrown. With fan favorites like “Life Round Here” and “Retrograde;” Overgrown solidified Blake as a vocal and production marvel with whom few can compare. Now after a slew of song snippets, one off remixes and even an album title change, Blake’s third album The Colour in Anything is here. So was Blake able to find the color in “anything” after Overgrown? The answer may surprise you.
Album opener and former album title “Radio Silence,” sways in with ever so soft coos of Blake’s voice over a reverberating soundscape. Here we find Blake at his most frustrated; he is in a parallel of disbelief that his partner doesn’t want to see him, yet he has a clue as to why. Sonically, this song sounds nothing like any of Blake’s past work. There is clear growth in Blake’s arrangements and production. The song is so good that it made me nervous that the first track was the peak of the album, but thankfully there was so much more to come.
A few tracks later we’re confronted with “Timeless,” a bouncy melodic track. Production takes center stage here, with Blake’s voice in the foreground. This is where we hear Blake’s experimental nature the best. He takes small instrumentations and sounds and magnifies them all the while melding them cohesively with others. As the song progresses you hear it expand beyond itself and then reduce itself once more. This is true artistic refinement, as Blake makes it sound so effortless.
Blake’s vocal performance should not go unnoticed. Highlights included “Choose Me” and “Two Men Down,” both serve as pure examples of Blake’s vocal prowess. With this album, the interplay of Blake’s vocals and production is more balanced than in his past work; the exploration of sounds vocally and sonically are a shining moment is The Colour of Anything - bravely showing us what Blake is capable of.
As the album progresses I began to notice that some tracks just aren’t as colorful, and fall somewhat flat when compared to album standouts. Songs like “F.o.r.e.v.e.r,” “The Colour in Anything" and “Meet You in the Maze” are rich, but not capturing. When compared to tracks like “Love Me in Whatever Way” and “Waves Know Shores,” I felt a little disappointed because the flatter songs just aren’t as big and brash as they could be.
“I Need a Forest Fire” creeps in with a similar sense of purpose that was felt with “Radio Silence.” Blake’s lyrics feel intentional and passionate, like that of the album’s opening track. The harmonizing of Justin Vernon (Lead of Bon Iver) and Blake’s voice is truly out of this world - I was taken aback numerous times at how well their voices fit within each other. Production wise, “I Need a Forest Fire” is a highlight of the album with its slow progression and opulence. The balance of the contrasting vocal performance and production is no better heard on the album than this track.
If there was any doubt that James Blake wouldn’t be able to make an album better than Overgrown, The Colour in Anything proved that he could do just that and more. Blake has pioneered his own sound; we’ve heard it in remixes he’s done for others and in his own music - there is no doubt that he is true to his artistic vision. For some artists that can cause stagnation and can bore listeners, but thankfully Blake did not fall into this trap. The Colour in Anything highlighted the growth in Blake’s artistry, all the while staying true to his sound. I wanted so bad for this album to be good, and it was that and so much more. Though the color may not be in every track, with some feeling more black and white than bright; the vivid highlights of the album more than make up for it. If Blake continues down this path I can only imagine what other colors he will find next time.