Album reviews: James Blake and Oh Wonder

Album reviews: James Blake and Oh Wonder

James Blake

Friends That Break Your Heart

★★★★☆

As James Blake tells it, his fifth album was going to be a dance record. He thought, “Hey, no one will see this coming! They’ll see I can be fun!” Well, spoiler alert, he has not made a dance record. Friends That Break Your Heart is, for the most part, a typically Blake-ian affair with subdued beats and gloomy electronics, but that’s not to say it isn’t occasionally good fun. “I’m So Blessed You’re Mine” is one example, incorporating PC Music-ish elements into his usual melancholia.  

It’s a record full of mesmerisingly brilliant composition and some of the most accomplished songwriting of Blake’s career. There are moments that feel almost operatic, like the melodrama of “Funeral”. He leans less on the rap collaborations than on his 2019 album Assume Form – though rappers JID and SwaVay appear, as do SZA’s gorgeous R’n’B vocals – instead opting for classic vocals and piano-based turns (“Foot Forward”, for instance, manages to incorporate all the metaphorical strings on his bow).

It fits more naturally than his slow-motion trap turns: a reminder of how good he can be when he forgets the features and does his own thing. 

Stream: I’m So Blessed You’re Mine, Life Is Not The Same, Friends Who Break Your Heart

Oh Wonder

22 Break

★★★★☆

Break-ups suck. It’s the rule. No matter how friendly or easy it seems to the outside world, there is always pain and mess. Oh Wonder, the indie-pop duo who just recently revealed that they’re actually a couple, have followed up that revelation with this album that dissects all the ugly feelings that come with a relationship breakdown.

That it’s rendered often in sparkling up-beats and gentle computer blips doesn’t lessen the inside-churning feeling of homelessness that comes with the slow realisation that the end may be nigh.

Shouting matches to worry the neighbours and slow, insular what-ifs make up the first half of the album, the astonishingly raw “Baby” sounding more like a confession than something we’re meant to listen in on.

Thankfully there is some resolution, some note of hope towards the end of this album that is equal parts pain and beauty. 

Stream: Baby, Don’t Let The Neighbourhood Hear, Kicking The Doors Down