He's a strange one James Blake. On the one hand, he's a scarily advanced talent whose command of ambient, songwriting, jazz chords, and dark, meaty bass could have Brian Eno, Flying Lotus, Hudson Mohawke, and Bjork throwing out side-eyes in equal measure. But something about the trajectory of his career in the UK—the lingering smell of post-dubstep that haunted his early days, before being rubbished as a genre—and the frail and delicate emotion in his sound, has often seen him viewed as, well, "a bit wet". As Blake admitted to The Guardian earlier this year: “I'm the opposite of punk. I’ve subdued a generation.”
But in the States, his stock is radically different. Kanye West loves him, Beyonce wants to work with him, Drake wants to sample him, Bon Iver wants to be on his album, and Kiwi pop queen Lorde has covered his songs. Blake, it seems, is revered with the utmost admiration, like some mild-mannered well of British talent that everyone wants a swig from. Viewed through that prism, it's a little weird that we thirst so much over an absent Frank Ocean in the UK, when we've potentially had our own sitting here all along.
Blake's latest album, The Colour in Anything, has gone some way to fixing this, purely by being the best thing he's ever made: a mammoth effort of seventeen tracks that are exploratory, sprawling, beautiful and "pretty damn optimistic". With it, the subtle indifference to him in the UK is thawing. Ironically, maybe it's taken Frank Ocean's nod of approval, via his co-writes on the record, for us to really see it.
Last night, on Later… with Jools Holland, he performed "Radio Silence," a song that encapsulates much of what he's about: club ready production shot through with moments of utterly stark loneliness, guided through the dark by his slow-burning vocals. He looked quite a lot like one of the best British singer-songwriters of our generation as he did so. Maybe we need to start calling him that.