James Blake – “Modern Soul” (Singles Going Steady)

James Blake has crafted the closest aesthetic we have to an elegy transmitted through the walls barricading one world from the next.

Pryor Stroud: Of all the elite practitioners of the subgenre known as ghostly R&B, James Blake has perhaps crafted the closest aesthetic we have to an elegy transmitted through the walls barricading one world from the next, delivered to a lover lost but still listening. In “Modern Soul”, this transmission is at full volume; his voice beseeches, tears up, and soars into nearly hymnal stretches of mourning that are convinced they will reach their intended recipient. Indeed, the song methodically descends into an afterlife, and then comes back up for air. Blake, a full-fledged Orphic figure, has been promised his lover’s hand again if he’ll only march forward, head down, without succumbing to the temptation to look back and see if she is following him. His movements are marked by the tiptoe piano chords that measure his — and the track’s — step-by-step progress to the surface. But soon the temptation is no longer to look back, but rather to give up an endeavor that may have been fruitless even during life. “I want it to be over / I want it to be over,” Blake croons, and the third chord of every measure, that strike signaling a realization too painful to utter, isn’t another step forward but a pause — maybe, after all this, it’s better to let the past rest undisturbed. [8/10]

Chad Miller: Other than a drum sample that sounds a bit off, rhythmically and textually, James Blake creates an expertly crafted melody that sounds simultaneously strong and wounded. The song revels in these feelings, especially during the gorgeous soundscape Blake ends his song with, singing “I want it to be over”. [8/10]

Dami Solebo: Name of the song seems pretty representative of what is James at his soulful best. The vocals are significant, as is the minimal chord structure. The varying textures used throughout the song are kind of weird but somehow work and make the song more impactful than just the piano melody alone would have. [8/10]

Maria Schurr: What felt like the usual at first slowly paid off thanks to a huge build that lesser artists would fail to see through. In the process, what could have easily been a background song becomes a totally engrossing five and a half minutes exploding with promise. 7/10

Emmanuel Elone: This is an angelic song that showcases Blake’s passionate and melodic vocals. This tune is a huge improvement from him since Overgrown. Stylistically, it’s the same as every other James Blake track, but the piano, vocals, hollow drums and skeletal percussion all work in tandem to create the beautiful, sorrowful atmosphere that surrounds all of Blake’s work. It’s a great song that shows the singer improving on every aspect of his craft, and must make fans wonder when he’s going to release his next album. [8/10]

Chris Ingalls: Gee, I hate to be catty, but this sounds like what Chris Martin wants to sound like. Lovely vocal melodies, the production is layered but still breathes. Beautiful. [7/10]

Stephen Wyatt: Enlisting Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and some guy named Kanye West on his tentatively titled upcoming release, Radio Silence, James Blake debuted “Modern Soul” off of his new album during his current residency on BBC Radio 1. The same Portishead aesthetics pour from this deeply soulful track: minimalistic piano block chords, trip-hop tempos and Blake’s impassioned delivery, the 27-year-old Londoner looks to become a household name much like the superstars collaborating with him. [8/10]

SCORE: 7.71