Let’s be honest: you wouldn’t really make a case for James Blake putting colour in anything. The man has made a name for himself with sedate, somewhat morose electronica that still bursts with understated soul, mining the sparser ground in beats and vocals and reinforcing every adage you can find about minimalist impact.
Colourful, though? Probably not the word you’d use, not that you ever need to. The Colour In Anything enjoys Blake’s tradition of straying outside the lines of convent, a stunning stretch of profound and ambient soul-baring that cements him as one of the few genuine auteurs this country has.
You only need to get to the second track Points to get a sense of that. It’s Blake at his hypnotic best, his timbre waving like it’s being gently swathed by a wind on the moors. Bass slowly thumps, vocal loops outdo themselves, and there’s a rising siren of menace that triggers a thrilling climax. It’s breathtaking stuff, as only the hands of James Blake can make it.
And of course, there’s that voice. It arguably places Modern Soul at the forefront of the year’s best singles (“I want it to be over” a refrain that will never stop making us blub like bairns), and even his more traditional songwriting constructs like Love Me In Whatever Way – humpback vibes notwithstanding – rest on the fragility and unfettered pain that those vocals bring. And if you can make it through f.o.r.e.v.e.r (“there’s a mirror in my room that I never use”) without needing a tissue then, in fairness, you’re probably an automaton gained accidental sentience.
What works in Blake’s favour – barring the Frank Ocean and Bon Iver co-writes, not that he really needed them – is his ability, comfort, and willingness to play the downtrodden lost soul. It occasionally has a tendency to become wearing over 17 tracks but there aren’t many people who can mine this sort of pain so convincingly, making us disregard any millions they might have in the bank to deliver earnest sentiment like Waves Know Shores. It’s hard to levy accusations of wallowing and self-pity when it feels so genuine.
Even better – and what ultimately makes Blake more relatable – is that he does it with an inventive simplicity. He’s that indulgent part of us that wants to roam a rain-soaked world at 3am. He’s the part of us that entertains the idea of living in a postmodern Bronte novel. And even though the colour palette remains distinctly maudlin, there are a thousand shades of human emotion that make this one of the richest records of the year.