James Blake is an artist whose music doesn’t depend on the ardor of youth, because it can be sedate in its beauty and rage, with each record his craft acquires a new vintage. The Colour in Anything might yet be considered his masterpiece. The influences are strange and new. Alternate listens suggest David Sylvian, Chet Baker, Laurie Anderson, Jeff Mills or Arvo Part. There are still genetic traces of the key records that marked his initial predisposition to make music – D’Angelo’s Voodoo, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and Antony and The Johnson’s I Am A Bird Now – but they’re now so entrenched in his DNA to sound almost invisible. ‘Just growing up is almost synonymous with self-improvement. So I think that’s what this album is about: maturing and shedding a slightly childish skin and trying to become happier in the process.’
There are tangible signs that James Blake is growing into an artist with tenacity, fresh perspectives and endurance, perhaps in the mould of a post-club Peter Gabriel brushing the detritus from the dancefloor as the lights go up. When James started making records, they were full of distorting effects on his true voice. There was a sense that he may be hiding not out of purely experimental motives but also a sense of young, mannish embarrassment. ‘Absolutely.’ At 27, he is at that fascinating precipice where adulthood itself becomes a matter of fight or flight. ‘I was incredibly self-conscious about how my voice came across to other people. I was incredibly self-conscious, full stop.’ Amid all the lessons that love and learning have taught him, the art of letting go was the least expected. ‘It was convenient that I wanted to experiment because it helped me to hide away. I spent a long time in the wilderness. I’m out of it now.’
With the help of Rubin, Ocean and Vernon, even perhaps through the countless requests that came through to collaborate, James has found himself by learning to let go. The transparency of songs like My Willing Heart and Modern Soul would not, could not have happened before. “With Justin, I wasn’t that interested in making music with him, initially,” he says, “I just wanted to be his mate.” The recording happened anyway. With Rubin, it was about allowing a second pair of ears in at the crucial development stages of building a new world on record. “The first time I was at Shangri-La, one of my band came to visit. I came out in a white t-shirt and slack trousers, no shoes and socks and I looked like I actually was at rehab or I’d joined a cult. Oh, James has changed.” It was true. He had. With Frank, it was about building a mutual support system. “I love Frank. He’s magnetic. The myopic viewpoint of my music and maybe my life slightly got in the way for a second. Then I caught myself. I stopped being an only child on this record.”
For James Blake, the transparency of light now beckons. It may yet be the colour in everything.