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6. Five minutes of harmonies and self-assurance
Sing it again and again, until it rings true in your heart.
suggested reading method
To best savour this artwork, please take a moment to eliminate distractions. Consider minimizing all other windows on your computer; putting other devices (phone, tv etc) aside; taking a deep breath, to the full extent of your lung capacity; and focusing solely on the “artwork” section.
Once you’ve processed that to your satisfaction, the rest of the post is optional reading, provided only to share my own impressions and reasons for choosing this piece.
“Say What You Will” by James Blake, from his forthcoming album Friends Who Break Your Heart.
It’s no secret, I’m a James Blake superfan. His soaring voice and creative production skills are a magic combination. I’ve done countless college assignments listening to his debut, self-titled album; seen him perform in LA, London, and Vancouver; and celebrated every success in his career over the last decade. I restrained myself from making my first post here about him!
This new single and accompanying video are alternately hilarious and poignant. Blake enlisted Finneas, the popular producer behind his sister Billie Eilish’s pop music, to act as the rival figure. Throughout the video, Finneas stands in for anyone we compare ourselves to. It’s easy to become obsessed and see them everywhere we go, believing the grass is greener on their side, and basking in the self-righteousness of jealousy. Thankfully Blake comes out of the theatre at the end, having performed for his own sake, hopefully enlightened enough to disregard Finneas on his way.
Sometimes I find Blake’s lyrics straightforward to the point of naive, but in this song that strategy complements the message: to eschew judgement and comparisons, and simply be okay with oneself. The repetition of the phrases “say what you will” and “you’re gonna do it anyway” almost sounds like Blake is trying to convince himself of their truth.
Harmonically, the piece is in C# Major: usually a happy key, yet the song sounds more bittersweet than uplifting. I think this is because the melody often tilts downward, at a slow rhythm we normally associate with sadness and songs in the minor key.
Both the lyrical repetition and melodic line remind me of Gregorian chants, a form of singing sacred texts which dates back to the 800s. Indeed, I take every sound in Blake’s songs as almost sacred in their beauty, layering voice and instrumentation to gorgeous effect.
James Blake (1988- ) is a British singer-songwriter and producer who has released several EPs and four studio albums, with the fifth due in September 2021. Blake won the 2013 Mercury Prize, was nominated for five Grammys, and won one for “King’s Dead” with rappers Jay Rock, Future, and Kendrick Lamar. Other collaborations include songs with André 3000 of Outkast, Moses Sumney, Travis Scott, and Metro Boomin, as well as production and vocals on Beyoncé’s Lemonade. In recent years, Blake has been touring and recording out of LA.
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