With a new album in the pipeline and currently supporting Kendrick Lamar on the DAMN. tour, British singer, songwriter and masterful producer James Blake has a busy 2018 scheduled. He is a former Mercury Music Prize winner and all three of his albums so far have gained huge critical acclaim; but what are his best songs?
10: Timeless – From ‘The Colour In Anything’
A wacky and wild song from Blake’s third album ‘The Colour In Anything’, Timeless serves as a reminder that James Blake is without doubt one of this country’s brightest and most enigmatic minds, using dark and moody electronics to set the tone of loneliness and fear. Vince Staples has gone on to remix this song and have his own verse on it and Kanye West was meant to be on the original according to Blake, but they could never make the collaboration happen. Despite the lack of Mr West, this song stands tall as one of the best he has ever done.
9: If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead – from upcoming album
Oh. My. God. This is a song of enormous magnitude but it’s also just absolutely bonkers. The second single released in 2018 as we strap ourselves in for another James Blake album and if it’s anything like this, expect fireworks. It is another glittering example of James Blake’s incredible production skills and the effect put on his vocals are brilliant, even if the first time I listened to it I may or may not have thought my headphones had broken. The stutter in the vocals as well as the amplified breathing shows his emotion and once he assumes a more sombre vocal delivery, the song clicks into place as an absolute marvel.
8: The Wilhelm Scream – From ‘James Blake’
Taken from his wonderful self-titled debut, The Wilhelm Scream is actually a cover, the original comes from James Litherland, who is coincidentally James Blake’s father. Needless to say his son did it justice as Blake adds a modern twist to the ballad to make it so much more than just your everyday love song. The song is named after the inhuman scream made when it feels like you’re falling from somewhere, a theme the song more than explores in a quirky style.
7: Take A Fall For Me ft. RZA – From ‘Overgrown’
Yes you did read that right, the RZA from Wu-Tang Clan did a song with James Blake and as expected, it is absolutely staggering. RZA rides the moody synthesised beat with effortless elegance as he spits the tale of a man and his relationship, mainly physical, with a lady who would appear to want more than just sex. RZA uses all of his swagger and attitude to throw in some classic British slangs and traditions, whether that be eating “fish and chips with vinegar” or calling money “quid”. As well as all of this, James Blake adds a beautiful backing vocal alongside it by chanting “you can’t marry her, you can’t marry her yet” to further add to the narrative.
6: I Need A Forest Fire ft. Bon Iver – From ‘The Colour In Anything’
The second time Bon Iver have featured on a James Blake album and this was certainly the standout of the two, proving to be an absolutely majestic combination between Justin Vernon and James Blake as they go back and forth harmonising their way through the track. The pair sing about starting over, looking for a fresh start and using the imagery of nature and burning everything to the ground to build the foundations all over again. The song gets carried by these lovely looped vocals and the pair sound like nectar on your ears, if these two did a collaborative full length project it could be one of the more groundbreaking musical feats of this generation, seriously.
5: Life Round Here – From ‘Overgrown’
This is easily one of Blake’s more recognisable songs, as was made apparent when I saw him at Manchester Arena during the DAMN. tour, the crowd burst into life when he started playing this one and for good reason. This is the accessible song needed for people to realise that James Blake is one in a million, he has the voice of an angel and the production abilities of an absolute maestro, a true phenomenon of his craft. Don’t believe me? Just listen to this very song, I guarantee it’ll change your mind. It is this kind of razor sharp production that won this album the Mercury Prize in 2014, the Chance The Rapper remix isn’t half bad, either.
4: Vincent – From upcoming album
Tears were shed when I first heard this heartbreaking ballad, the first single from James’ upcoming album. It all stems from the sheer beauty not only of his piano keys, but also the prominence of his voice, which really takes centre stage in this one. It is a cover of Dom McLean’s song which celebrated the life of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, hence the title. Using one of his most famous paintings as an opening line for the verses and the delivery of it too, Blake singing “Starry, Starry Night” really grabs the attention and is just spellbounding. Listening to this and If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead gives you the impression that this new album could be literally anything, we are no closer to knowing how it will sound, all we do know is that it has plenty of anticipation behind it off the back of these glorious singles.
3: Radio Silence – From ‘The Colour In Anything’
When you talk about opening an album with a bang, not many brush shoulders with Radio Silence, the first track from The Colour In Anything. The song sees Blake exploring the loss of a loved one, wondering why they left and feeling perplexed and lonely after the situation has occurred. The idea of “Radio Silence” is a quite marvellous metaphor for the couple’s lack of communication, an obvious factor as to why everything broke down between them. The hi-hats and loud production further adds to the confusion of Blake’s situation and adds a dark undertone to it all. A quite stunning opener and easily one of the best songs James Blake has ever done.
2: Retrograde – From ‘Overgrown’
If you know who James Blake is then you have definitely heard this song before, it is without doubt his biggest hit and a major contributing factor to the success of the award winning album Overgrown that it featured on. The chorus is, for the most part, rhythmic humming which may seem quite basic, but the end product is absolutely gorgeous, particularly when it blends into the instrumental and becomes an integral part of the song’s structure. Blake uses the happy relationship he was in at the time of writing this album as an influence on this song, so when he talks about being alone, he means it quite literally. The song celebrates this girl massively, who turns out to be Warpaint guitarist Theresa Wayman; and the beauty of a song like this shows not only the warmth in his heart, but also the genius in his mind to sing about his feelings in this way.
1: I Never Learnt To Share – From ‘James Blake’
Here it is, the undisputed champion of James Blake songs. The lyrics don’t vary at all through the song as James Blake continues the rhetoric of “my brother and my sister don’t speak to me, but I don’t blame them”. It just so happens that this is somewhat of an in-joke with Blake, as he is an only child and therefore cannot blame his siblings for not speaking to him, as they don’t exist. That alone sounds silly, but combined with the song’s title it makes you realise the depth of the situation; James always resented the idea of being an only child and in fact felt he lacked as a result of not having siblings, never learning how to share. Beyond the lyrics, we also have a quite frankly incredible EDM style drop towards the latter stages of this song which just blows my head off every time I hear it. The most amazing part of this? He produced this song entirely on his own, in his bedroom… Not a studio, in his bedroom. Where he sleeps. Incredible.