James Blake’s Golden Hour: “Friends That Break Your Heart”

There is something to be said about witnessing the golden hour in a wooded glen, and every so often—whether hiking, camping, or frolicking at a music festival—I have found myself in the perfect time and place to behold such natural brilliance. As the soft sunlight graces the moss-covered redwoods, I tread delicately along the fallen, hollow trees which cave gently beneath my bare feet after years of absorbing rainfall.

These moments are fleeting, however; in less than an hour, the sun will set behind the treeline and the air will begin to cool down. The golden hour typically lasts for less than an hour—similar to James Blake’s latest LP “Friends That Break Your Heart”.

Since the album’s release this past October 8th, Blake’s listeners have taken a maximum of forty-four minutes out of their days to journey through the wooded glen of James Blake’s cerebellum (with occasional rabbit-trails through his temporal lobe).

This, his fifth full-length album, comes after three years of touring, writing, and virtual fan funneling during the global division caused by COVID-19. Blake’s genuine, romantic, and passionate capacities found within the album are weaving a borderless tapestry out of his dedicated followers—a much needed harmony considering recent world events.

Blake worked hand-in-hand with visual artist Miles Johnston in the making of the album cover to interpret his new music in visual form. The result is a mind-bending image: an animated version of Blake lying on his side, with puzzle pieces of his body grotesquely displaced, while he gazes peacefully yet despondently upon a calm, secluded pasture.  

Inspired by the setting captured in Johnston’s artwork, I quite enjoy comparing this album to nature’s golden hour and the subsequent sunset.

The sense of wonder, growth and new birth that accompany a reclusive rendezvous through a sun-kissed patch of trees is a sensation parallel to that of “Coming Back” and “Lost Angel Nights”, which feel like a genuine return to roots for Blake.

As I traverse gently amidst the trees and underbrush, I find myself soul-searching in the mystery of life’s tapestry—a familiar mind-state for James Blake—as heard in songs seven and eight, “Foot Forward” and “Show Me”, wherein he recounts feelings of acceptance and transformation through rhythm.

The soft rays of light eclipsing the swaying tree branches are well-represented by Blake’s uplifting numbers “Say What You Will” and “I’m So Blessed You’re Mine” as he expounds his admiration of the beauty around him. I imagine the facial expression depicted by Miles Johnston’s album art is an accurate freeze frame of how Blake felt when writing these songs.

Johnston’s allegoric cover art accurately depicts most of the moods set throughout the album. Notwithstanding, I would argue that the image fails to fully encapsulate the dynamic range of emotion expressed by Blake within the LP.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that Blake’s dark, melancholic productions “Friends That Break Your Heart” and “Life is Not the Same” are not distinctly represented in Johnston’s art. Perhaps a looming storm cloud, or an ominous patch of trees could do these songs justice.

Ultimately, “Friends That Break Your Heart” is likely to go down in history as James Blake’s most sentimental and cheerful album of his career. Much like the rain-washed hollowed out evergreens, these songs are sure to cave gently beneath your feet as you listen. Life would not be the same without music such as this. Don’t let the sun go down on you tonight without this album in your earbuds.

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