James Blake – Playing Robots Into Heaven

This is James Blake in his absolute prime.

Label: Polydor / Republic Records
Released: 8th September 2023

Since the beginning of his career, James Blake has been a shape-shifting presence in music – nigh on impossible to pin down and define, yet known unwaveringly as a formidable figure. Each album feels like a reshuffling of what he is capable of, another layer of the artist peeled back. Returning with ‘Playing Robots Into Heaven’, James Blake reinvents himself once more, into a version of the self that marries the never-ending, future-facing talent with the electronic roots that launched his trajectory. It’s a masterful display of work.

From the dark beats of ‘Loading’ to the euphoric heights that ‘Tell Me’ reaches, with his latest James Blake commands attention unwaveringly. It’s a late night escapade at the climax of summer, the last of the sun giving way to a crisp twilight chill – the brooding electronica creeps around you, engulfing you in this dark world. ‘He’s Been Wonderful’ revels in glitchy beats that feel quintessentially James Blake, choral samples transforming it into something of an unpredictable beast. ‘Big Hammer’ is a twitching, writhing moment, whilst ‘I Want You To Know’ is hypnotically ethereal.

‘Playing Robots Into Heaven’ feels like an act of resurrection. Transforming with each album cycle into something different, inviting a host of A-list features and amplifying those major moments, the core of who he is seemed to drift away for a moment. Whilst there is sheer brilliance in the albums that preceded this one, here, he seems to reconnect with that initial vision. The rawness and charm of that particular style of dance that James Blake cut his teeth on returns in full force, just with years of experience and style added on top. An immersive, spell-casting album that plunges you into a nocturnal world, this is James Blake in his absolute prime.

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