James Blake — Friends That Break Your Heart — Album Review

Alternative | Soul | R&B

Listen on Spotify | Listen on Apple Music

What was technically the first time I listened to James Blake would’ve been his feature on “Stop Trying to Be God”, the fifth track off of Travis Scott’s 2018 album Astroworld. And for many listeners, I feel that this first instance may have been the case for them as well.

But further on from that, I later experienced the fourth studio album from James Blake, titled Assume Form, upon its release in January of 2019. This was really my first way of experiencing James Blake properly, and all of the gorgeous vocal whimsicality that came with it. On that project, I really appreciated the uplifting feel that a lovestruck James Blake conveyed on that album, which was definitely a welcome mood, given what I was going through at that time.

Ever since then, I have been excited to see where James Blake may just go next. We did have little glimpses of Blake’s musical progression through a scattering of 2020 singles such as “You’re Too Precious”, and “Are You Even Real?”. Those tracks also conveyed a good sense of awe from the perspective of Blake himself. And with that, it seemed that this would be the path he would be staying on.

But as new tracks began to surface, in the year of 2021, a new mood could be felt; one that was far less uplifting, and instead much more mellow. Such was the teasing towards Blake’s fifth and newest album, Friends That Break Your Heart.

The teaser tracks that I listened to prior to the full albums release included “Say What You Will”, “Life Is Not The Same”, and “Famous Last Words”. Initially, this more somber tone that James Blake was going for was one that I wasn’t necessarily vibing with. But as part of the full album, I began to warm to this slightly.

Besides which, we do get little sprinkles of more upbeat material on Friends That Break Your Heart. However, that isn’t to say that they aren’t quite rare. In particular, he seems to adapt his album to a more light-hearted tone for the sake of his features that appear on the album. Speaking of which, this album may just have the most exciting cast of features on any James Blake album I’ve heard, and include the likes of SZA, JID, and even slowthai if you’re counting in the bonus edition of this album.

I would say that it is those upbeat tunes, that really stand as the album’s best highlights, as they double as some of the most unique tracks. And while there is no denying that this more mellow undertone goes extremely well with Blake’s vocal style, the overall presence of the album had a somewhat slippery grip on me when it came to the overall enjoyment of the project. The positivity behind Assume Form was the main contributor to its overall enjoyment as an experience. But in the case of Friends That Break Your Heart, the experience I had unfortunately felt more transparent.

Favourite Tracks: Coming Back | Frozen | I’m So Blessed You’re Mine

Least Favourite Track: Funeral

UMG Recordings | Republic Records | Polydor

Enjoyment: 6/10 | Memorability: 6/10 | Atmosphere: 8/10

Uniqueness: 8/10 | Satisfaction: 5/10 | Narrative: 8/10

Final Score: 7/10



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Joe Boothby

Joe Boothby

My articles mainly revolve around music reviews and analysis. A bit like Anthony Fantano, but just a decade behind.