Friends That Break Your Heart

James Blake

Friends That Break Your Heart album art
Dubstep Alternative Singer/Songwriter Alternative/Indie Rock Indie Electronic Alternative Pop/Rock
James Blake's discography has experienced a gradual thaw. While still mired in heartbreak and discontentment, the production on 2016's The Colour in Anything brightened up just a touch from the stark atmospheres of Blake's groundbreaking earlier records. His fourth album, Assume Form, felt a few degrees warmer as well, with several songs that offset his signature melancholy with feelings of springy joy and the giddy excitement of new love. Fifth album Friends That Break Your Heart continues the emotional climate change that the producer/songwriter has been experimenting with, landing largely as a friendly pop record, even while holding on to traces of the pain and loneliness that are inextricable from Blake's music. A string of straightforward and uncomplex songs open the album. The spare "Famous Last Words" flows affably through subtle synth lines and increasingly layered vocals, opening up into a sweet swell of strings and romantic harmonies just before winding down. "Life Is Not the Same" brings back the skeletal piano chords, clicky drum programming, and unexpected production turns of Blake's early work, but anchors the song's more free-floating qualities with a soaring chorus. It commits to dynamism in a way that's almost anthemic by James Blake standards, wallowing in heartbreak but still delivering a hooky chorus. The melodic harpsichord samples and swimmy synth arpeggios of "Coming Back" are so complimentary of guest collaborator SZA's vocals, it's almost too soon when her verse ends and Blake's wispy falsetto returns. The album moves through a few different modes as it goes on, including the chipper post-breakup shrugging of "Foot Forward," the catchy and hypnotic sample-bending of "I'm So Blessed You're Mine," and "Frozen," a continuation of Blake's collaboration with high-profile rappers that finds SwaVay and JID executing sharp verses over an eerie, creeping instrumental. Even though Friends That Break Your Heart travels a winding path from experimental rap tracks to the tender balladry that makes up the majority of its final quarter, it's still one of the more accessible, and occasionally predictable, collections of material from Blake. Sounding like it was created from the other side of the crushing sadness that defined his earliest work, the album continues Blake's incremental shift to lighter material and songs that lean more into acceptance than torment. ~ Fred Thomas