What has remained constant throughout James Blake’s career — from his basically instrumental, sample-heavy, early E.P.s, to the steady turn toward full-scale R&B documented by his two studio albums — is that he has always seemed to be an artist in the process of evolving.
For this reason, I was surprised when I turned on “Modern Soul,” a song Blake debuted on BBC1 last week. A possible selection from his forthcoming studio album Radio Silence, the song would have seemed right at home on Blake’s more recent L.P., 2013’s Overgrown.
Like so much of Overgrown, “Modern Soul” is piano based and melodic, but also features electronic instrumentation and distortion. All is set to the background by Blake’s soulful baritone, sounding great, but pretty much the same as ever.
If there is one thing that stands out about “Modern Soul” it is that it exhibits Blake’s minimalist lyricism at its finest. “I know a crossroads where I see them,” he croons enigmatically in the songs first few moments, and this looming sense of dilemma pervades throughout the remaining five minutes of the track. The refrain finds Blake becoming self-reflective about his status as a successful singer-songwriter, repeating the line, “because of a few songs, because of a few songs.” As the track winds down Blake assumes the brooding role he seems so comfortable with, falling again into a meditative repetition, declaring over and over again that he “want[s] it be over.”
Matthew Pegan is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.