The Breakdown: The Colour in Anything, by James Blake

Henry: I haven’t listened to much James Blake to be honest, though I’ve heard his music around and generally liked it. That being said, I have to be in a certain kind of mood to listen to him. His slow, atmospheric style has a kind of pensive melancholy to it, which can either be nice or sorta depressing. I do like how smooth this whole album is, almost entirely devoid of sharp, high frequencies, save for rim-shot snares and crisp hi-hats here and there, which cut through the swelling harmonies to carry this thing along.

Micah: I’m a big James Blake fan. I loved his 2011 self titled album and had a major phase with his 2013 effort, Overgrown. I agree that James Blake makes very specific mood music that is perfect for contemplative listens during rainy days, bouts of depression, or night driving. I must admit it’s been a bit of a downer absorbing this album and the new Radiohead album at the same time. To me they both occupy that contemplative experimental songwriting territory that very few people do well. I do enjoy it, but it’s very easy to get lost in the somberness. This album took more time to get into than his earlier work because it’s less polished and more exposed. At first a lot of the songs sounded too similar, but after repeated listens I’ve picked up on the details that give this album its ups and downs. Let’s get into it.

1. Radio Silence

Written by James Blake

Henry: Big fan of the rimshot snare and hi-hat pattern on this, the way it cuts through the atmospheric keys and James’s crooning to provide a simple structure before the rhythmic synth comes in. This album is most compelling for me when it’s moving, and this song keeps a nice pace.

Micah: This really works for me as an intro to the album, setting up James’s consistently dreary and somber sonic signature. It begins as a beautifully sad chant:  “I can’t believe this, you don’t wanna see me” where he talks about being disconnected from someone he used to be close with. Here he is mournful, but calm until the music supporting the vocals grows and is eventually catapulted by the grainy synthesizer into a state of panic. He is presenting himself as calm and mournful, but the music reveals that under the surface he is in a tortured turmoil. Love this song.


2. Points

Written by James Blake

Henry: I love the drop on this one, how the line “no longer her, no longer” looped over and over falls into a kind of semantic satiation that strips it of its meaning, in the way that obsession with a person often strips them of their personhood in a strange way, until all that’s left is this mental image, a sort of imprint of what you imagine them to be. This is one of my favorites on the album.

Micah: The repetitive chanting continues here on the second track, but in a more prominent way. I like how James’s longing vocals fading into the mix and become just another instrument in the mix instead of taking center stage. I also like how this song continues the theme of drifting apart from a loved one in a painful way. It’s gut wrenching, but man does it make me feel alive.


3. Love Me in Whatever Way

Written by James Blake

Henry: I like the simplicity of the piano line on this one, it’s a kind of throwback after the synth-heavy openers. Even though Frank doesn’t get writing credits on all the tracks, I can hear his influence throughout the project in the way that the chords and melodies move.

Micah: This is a nice quiet song. While I like the haunting and reverb-heavy production and the minimal instrumentation, this song is not a highlight for me on the album. However, I could see it one day coming up on shuffle while I’m walking through a thick woods at night and have a deeply spiritual moment. Since that hasn’t happened yet, I’m afraid this song will have to continue to grow on me. One thing I would like to mention is that I will swear up and down that Frank is singing on the outro chorus: I can’t give up, not now, not then. I know, it’s most likely James doing his best Frank Ocean impression, but it’s so good I swear it’s Frankie.


4. Timeless

Written by James Blake

Henry: You know it’s a laid back album when this song is the banger. The arpeggiated synth siren hits drive this one with reserved but powerful energy.

Micah: Oh my god I love that blaring synth so much. I hated it the first few listens, but now I can’t get enough of it. The ridiculously jarring way it introduces itself or the infectious rhythm which it is performed with. That siren makes the whole song for me. Imagine if this song had Kanye on it like James said it was originally supposed to.


5. f.o.r.e.v.e.r.

Written by James Blake

Henry: I like the transition from heavily modulated vocals and synth lines to this simple song that’s just James and a piano. I don’t mind autotune as a stylistic choice in certain contexts, but you have to prove that you can actually sing without it, and James does.

Micah: I like what James is saying with this song. How love can’t be forever because people live too long not to change enough to grow apart? This whole album is about falling out of love, the quiet agony mixed with soul crushing abandonment and loneliness. This song is the songwriter stepping back from the experience to make sense of it all. I’m not a big fan of this one on its own, but I think it plays an important part in putting the rest of the album in context.


6. Put That Away and Talk to Me

Written by James Blake

Henry: This song is a hilariously pained commentary on millennials and smartphones. It’s what plays in the heads two hipsters sitting across from one another in a coffee shop, both on their iphones, hiding a gut-wrenching depression behind a wall of instagram pictures. “Where is my beautiful life. I don’t live here anymore”

Micah: This is my favorite song on the album. Before I sat down and listened to the lyrics I assumed this was a song about an unfaithful man being attacked by his knife wielding wife, but this works too. I love the discussion of escapism and our slow march towards becoming the civilization in Wall-E, but that’s not the main reason why I love this song. I love how it starts with a faint buzzing in the background and meandering synthesizers. I think this is some of James’ best vocal delivery and the lush, yet sparse production supports it well. I can’t get enough of this.


7. I Hope My Life

Written by James Blake

Henry: I can’t really get into this one. The beat is too rigid and the arpeggiated lines don’t really grab me.

Micah: Same. Skip. Sorry.


8. Waves Know Shores

Written by James Blake

Henry: This is one of the songs that could use some rhythm, at least in my mind. I like the muted horns, and the way the chords move, but when this album goes acapella, that’s where it starts to lose me. Also, the waves/shores line is pretty cliche. Just sayin’.

Micah: This is the shortest song on the album. It’s sonically quite pretty, but I don’t like the chanted similes or the structure of the song in general. It’s not as bad as the last track, but not great either.


9. My Willing Heart

Written by James Blake & Frank Ocean

Henry: The way voices are treated on this album is really interesting to me, the way they become modulated, warped, tuned and looped, so that when we hear a natural voice, it almost comes as a shock. I like the drop on this song a lot. Frank did good.

Micah: I like the drums on this one. Not necessarily the very sparse ones in the beginning of the song, but the slow, robotic ones once the song settles into its pace. I like the rattling echo-sounding percussion that interjects itself sporadically. I would love to hear what Frank would have done with this song vocally, but I think James did a great job


10. Choose Me

Written by James Blake

Henry: The choral quality of this track provides an interesting counterpoint to its tom-heavy rhythm and arpeggiated synths which work as a kind of anachronistic ode to the 80’s in pop music.

Micah: This song isn’t bad, but it isn’t one of my favorites. The drumming isn’t my favorite and the wailing James is doing behind his singing doesn’t seem quite right. It just doesn’t really come together for me on this one.


11. I Need a Forest Fire (featuring Bon Iver)

Written by James Blake & Justin Vernon

Henry: I was wondering when the other king of white dudes with autotune was gonna show up. In all seriousness though, this musical pairing makes a lot of sense, and this song works well for it.

Micah: I like this. It’s one of the catchier songs on the album and Mr. Bon Iver is a huge part of that. His instantly recognizable timbre over the chanting Another shade, another shadow is a nice break from James subdued and haunting delivery. Bon Iver is warmer, adding a light to a very dark album. While they both sound like they’re singing underwater, I think Bon Iver is a bit closer to the surface.


12. Noise Above Our Heads

Written by James Blake

Micah: I really like the instrumentation and progression of this song, but I can’t get behind the lyrics. Sonically, this is one of the fullest and best balanced tracks on the project and I can enjoy it, but only when I focus on everything but the singing. There is nothing wrong with what James is doing, and that style works well on the rest of the album, but I don’t think it does here. The music does a lot, but it’s not enough to save this track for me.

Henry: I love the drums on this. Very Mount Kimbie. I don’t mind the lyrics too much, although I can see how they might seem a little more over-the-top than some of the tracks on this album.


13. The Colour in Anything

Written by James Blake

Micah: The title track  is another nice display of James alone with the piano to give the summation of the theme of the entire album: If one day I woke and couldn’t find the colour in anything. I like the lyrical content here, but the music and the singing doesn’t stand out to me.

Henry: I do like the way this song works within the album, although I probably wouldn’t seek it out to listen to on its own.


14. Two Men Down

Written by James Blake

Micah: Here’s the big one! This is the album’s most ambitious cut, a thick synthscape pulsating over a hypnotic drum pattern and cacophonous bassline make this song incredibly mesmerizing. There isn’t a whole lot going on in the lyrics that I can pick up on. Seems like James is still bummed out that he isn’t in love anymore and maybe there’s another guy that’s now fallen for the one he’s lost. Either way, I enjoy getting lost in the detailed and droning and layered production and I like what James is doing vocally over the ever-fluctuating musical backdrop. I like the vibe of this song.

Henry: The way the chords move on this song is strangely surreal. Something about the synth strings in the background reminds me of Super Mario 64. This one is growing on me. Not sure it needs to be six minutes long though.


15. Modern Soul

Written by James Blake

Henry: I’m not sure how I feel about this one still. Not my favorite or least favorite. If it was a bit shorter, I’d probably enjoy it more.

Micah: I’ve probably listened to this song fifteen times already trying to make up my mind whether I like this song or not. It kind of blends into the album, adding to the feel and aesthetic of the album, but doesn’t work well out of context.


16. Always

Written by James Blake & Frank Ocean

Micah: At first I hated the drums on this song. I still can’t totally get behind the way clap sticks out abrasively the intro, but once I get past that I like the way this song keeps moving. I like the way they resampled the vocals and tucked in the reverbed piano. I’m not really sure what is going on lyrically, but it sounds like a kind of bliss found in the depths of depression. Maybe James Blake is pink clouding?

Henry: I had to look up the term “pink clouding,” but maybe you’re right. I’m also not a big fan of these drums, though some parts of this song do work for me. I think it’s mainly that I’m starting to get fatigued at this point in the album. James Blake can be strangely draining to listen to, which affects the way I feel about these last few tracks.


17. Meet You in the Maze

Written by James Blake & Justin Vernon

Henry: A somber harmonic closer that’s given a little levity by the chipmunk-voiced James Blake that comes in part way through. This is another track that I like in the sequence of the album, but probably won’t come back to without listening to the whole thing through.

Micah: The vocal production on this song reminds me most of James’ earlier work. The tight, exposed harmonies give a fitting benediction to one of my favorite albums of the year so far. The Colour in Anything is definitely a “mood album” that I can’t throw on all the time, but on a sunny, gloomy afternoon when I feel like being a sad, tortured bastard for a while, this album really hits the spot. I can’t wait to see where James goes from here.

Henry Whittier-Ferguson & Micah Roehlkepartain