Life Lessons In Humility and Self-Esteem on James Blake’s [@jamesblake] ‘Friends That Break Your Heart’

Words by: Matthew Griffiths

James Blake’s upcoming fifth studio album Friends That Break Your Heart is almost upon us and we’ve already been gifted two singles – ‘Say What You Will’ and ‘Life Is Not the Same’.

‘Say What You Will’ came with a music video that let us see James Blake through a new lens. A slight deviation from what Blake fans are used to, in this video we are gifted with a hilarious montage of awkward situations where Blake’s popularity is being overshadowed by another artist – namely FINNEAS. The video carries a modern life lesson, that those who look up to others often don’t know how to look at themselves. In a world where many post their greatest achievements onto social media, one can relate to Blake in feeling left behind, even when we are successful in our own right.

There’s even a moment where FINNEAS passes Blake in the street, and barely notices all the posters of himself aligned on the wall behind him – as if maybe he, too is caught up in the cycle of successful people who are struggling with their own self-esteem. People in the comments have even remarked on how they weren’t familiar with FINNEAS’ music until seeing him in this video.

James’ lyrics mirror the video as a mature reflection of what James is suffering from in these scenes. He lets us know that although he may not be a superstar to everyone, he’s happy to be here. He’s content and grounded with the people, with his fans, down to earth – where he can look them in the eyes, and see their faces clearly.

I can find my way with no superpowers/
I can take my place without becoming sour/
I might not make all those psychopaths proud/
At least I can see the faces of the smaller crowds

His use of falsetto in the choruses and at the end of the track is magnified by the use of his lower register in the verses, but this doesn’t take away from showing how much Blake‘s vocals have improved. Back in the summer of 2020, Blake participated in a project with Apple called “Behind the Mac” where he showed a little of his creative process. This allowed us to see him perform a vocal exercise from a YouTube video by vocal coach Eric Arceneaux, which James described on Twitter as an “incredibly silly bird-call”. It’s an insight into James’ humility, and also how he’s gotten to where he is now vocally. His falsetto has even been compared to that of Jeff Buckley.

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The single that followed, ‘Life Is Not The Same’, although melancholy, has a more hip-hop feel to it. It was co-produced alongside American record production and songwriting duo Take A Daytrip, as well as Japanese singer-songwriter Joji and producer Khushi. It’s stripped back nature almost makes it sound like a lo-fi hip-hop tune at times, but with professional clarity instead of the intentional low-pass filtered instrumentation we hear on conventional lo-fi tracks. We can only hope for more of this slick sound on the album, with SZA and JID also announced as collaborators on the album tracklist.

The combination of the album artwork with the lyrics of ‘Life Is Not The Same’ speaks volumes. When someone you love is distant, you may feel like you’re missing part of yourself, and the artwork captures that essence perfectly. James looks sort of immobile on the grass while he’s lying there with surrealist jigsaw-looking chunks missing from his body.

Friends That Break Your Heart is due to drop on October 8th. Whatever we get on that day, from what we’ve gotten so far I’m positive that it will be a humble, heartfelt and thoughtful project, as many of James Blake’s songs have been to date.

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