With all 2020 gave us, music was one of the positives. From artists we have always loved such as Caribou and Run the Jewels, to artists such as Sault and Phoebe Bridgers planting their flag for a constant spot at the table to fresh new sounds like Troy Kingy, Khruanbin and Arlo Parks.
As we wrap up 2020 there have also been some unexpected surprises; Paul McCartney, Black Thought and most recently Parallel by Four Tet.
With a positive bounce in everyones step looking ahead to 2021 there is not only optimism in the air for things finding some normality around the world but also for new music. The hope being that many of our favourite artist have spent the last 12 months creating new material for us.
So far we know the following artists are ready to roll: Arlo Parks, Bicep, Darkside, Foo Fighters plus a Madlib & FourTet collaboration which all should be solid.
Plus unconfirmed but expect there will be new albums from Kanye West, Adele, Julia Stone, The Staves, Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky to name a few.
So, I wasn’t really sure what I’d do for January AOTM. It’s been stressful and difficult few months and my best intentions of getting January finished by early new year came up short of nothing more than inspiration. I just didn’t see much interesting around, and I wasn’t listening to much new stuff either: even 6 Music wasn’t on much any more. The travails of a young family, brutal work and no downtime left me delving back into the past (Eno, mostly) trying to find some tranquility in the modern noise.
But then this arrived, almost serendipitously, out of the mist. And of course, James Blake was both a great option and an album that would server as a hopeful antidote to the current messy modern world. It’s only a bonus that I’ve been a big fan of his, but the question I wondered was: could another album of his songs do anything new? Perhaps it didn’t have to. His music was mostly only even in a genre of its own that – while he gained many imitators – he seemed to have his very own dubby, falsetto, reverb-heavy, then four-four slices of music that was both rich and warm then desolate and icy.
So what did I expect of this? Nothing, as I’d had no advance warning or visibility, and that’s sometimes no bad thing. In my first few listens here – a week or rotation has already been hugely enjoyable if embryonic in my opinions of this as a review at arm’s length – I’ve enjoyed much of what I’ve heard. For a songwriter and sonic experimentalist that has carved out such strange spaces over his previous albums, he’s also managed to take in emotional lyrics, albeit some that so feel wrapped up in his musical ambition that that skill is lost.
Some of his previous work is staggering – Digital Lion, Overgrown, Radio Silence – tracks that only get better with time, and so this has a high standard to follow. I’m not sure all of the LP hits those heights. Some of it is pretty cold, perhaps it’ll warm up over time, but there are some gems. It seems obvious but Where’s The Catch (above) with Andre 3000 at last breaks some of the constrictions of its companions that sometimes feels too forced and deliberately restrained. When beats are as crisp, and warmth flecks the darkness, you do wonder why he doesn’t want to break free as much elsewhere. I’d love to see more of that. However, the title track is wonderful, and while I am not part of the auto-tune crowd, Blake’s collaborations are inventive and interesting.
In short, it’s a work in progress, but I’m hugely enjoying having new James Blake in my life, and it’s just the sort of music to shut out the noise, the angst, the anger, the stress and the discord. I can, at least, salute that.