Reviews

James Blake “Playing Robots into Heaven” Album Review

Playing Robots Into Heaven

James Blake

  • Genre: Electronic
  • Date: 08 Sep, 2023
  • Content: Not-explicit
  • Track(s): 11
  • ℗ 2023 UMG Recordings, Inc. (A Republic Records / Polydor Records Release)

James Blake, a singer-songwriter who rose from the ashes of dubstep and experimental electronica, performs best when he goes against the grain. Blake has gone back to his roots with the dynamic “Playing Robots into Heaven,” a project that combines the advanced and complex nature of his recent creations with the appeal reminiscent of those crucial early years. This comes after the introspective, lockdown-fueled endeavor that gave us “Friends That Break Your Heart.”

This LP represents the musician’s return to the era when he released dance tunes through prestigious labels like Hessle Audio and R&S after years of honing his distinctive fusion of immersive electronica and poignant poetry. It demonstrates how the artist has totally embraced the culture that he fell in love with in his late adolescence.

Album Cover Art

James Blake &Quot;Playing Robots Into Heaven&Quot; Album Review, Yours Truly, Reviews, May 29, 2024

The album cover shows the silhouettes of pilgrims making their way up a steep hill as they keep marching toward their destination.

Tracks and Features

The low-fi, rhythm-and-blues-like opening track “Asking to Break” introduces a noticeably abrupt change. Although the song’s sound and vocals are lovely, they are obscured by a dense, grainy veil. Since Blake’s skills as a producer are perhaps what make him most well-known, electronic instrumentals and beats are frequently at the forefront of his discography. On the second track, “Loading,” he does some new, thought-provoking lyrical groundwork.

Blake’s voice is distinct and unmistakable while being altered, and he has a remarkable knack for fusing the ethereal with a tough, textured electronic bottom. With “Tell Me” and “Fall Back,” on which he returns to his house roots, he does both.

In “Big Hammer,” a strong dubstep melody evocative of Blake’s early work samples the Ragga Twins, forerunners of London’s Unity Sound System in the 1990s. A group is seen smashing a car, robbing an ice cream shop, and robbing a bank in the accompanying video, which captures the song’s frantic atmosphere.

Pharrell Williams co-wrote “I Want You To Know,” which begins as a quiet house track with the clinking of some shakers, slick modulated vocals, and synthesized woodwinds but changes pace in various places. It’s a smooth entry into the album’s second half. The austere “Fire The Editor,” with its shaky bass rhythm, seems to be a personal reflection on what it’s like to be an artist and constantly being treated unfairly. Blake demonstrates some inward progress and respect for his worth.

Blake is adept at being both the maximalist and the minimalist at once, as he does in much of his music. From the very beginning, “If You Can Hear Me” is heartbreakingly and terribly lovely. The piano ballad serves as an open letter to his musical father, who founded the jazz rock group Colosseum. It offers an insight into their complicated relationship and how Blake’s career, which has found success independently of his father’s popularity, has been impacted.

The album’s final song, the title track, is entirely instrumental and has alien noises that would be at home in the score to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The music transports listeners to a futuristic setting where people and machines coexist harmoniously.

Tracklist

NO TITLE TIME
1 Asking To Break 2:52
2 Loading 4:44
3 Tell Me 5:00
4 Fall Back 4:01
5 He’s Been Wonderful 3:21
6 Big Hammer 4:00
7 I Want You To Know 4:47
8 Night Sky 3:39
9 Fire The Editor 3:57
10 If You Can Hear Me 2:24
11 Playing Robots Into Heaven 3:54

Album Theme

“Playing Robots into Heaven” is a mixed bag, much like many of James Blake’s albums after his well-received debut. Only the most outstanding dance music manages the difficult task of finding the ideal balance between an emotional ballad and a body-moving blast.  Blake has previously been able to balance this duality precisely, but he falls short in this instance.

Production Credits

Dom Maker, Jameela Jamil, James Blake, KHUSHI & Rob McAndrews produced the album.

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