It doesn’t take long for the strings that start Loraine James‘ Gentle Confrontation to shapeshift from soft breezes to an atmosphere more ominous. Opening track “Gentle” sets a tone that James builds on for her entire album, senses of doom and sorrow and strength and rhythm all building on one another as she plays with glitches, sharp dance beats, and languid melodies to make artful and intensely personal music. It’s undoubtedly James’ most intimate record to date and is her best overall as she reaches new heights in her production craft.
There are 16 tracks on Gentle Confrontation, each moving us through a different season as we orbit the celestial body: Loraine James’s creative mind. The brightest moments are a pair of consecutive glitchpop tracks: “Glitch the System (Glitch Bitch 2)” and “I DM U”, both rich with abstract patterns of synths, beats, and voice. They sparkle, glittering with drum fills and feedback, lift that is much needed as James pulls us into beautiful moments of tremendous gravity.
Many songs here delve into James’ emotional life through lyrics and sound layers. “2003” recalls James’ turmoil at the loss of her father 20 years earlier, her voice earnest over steady droning tiers. Following the same thread, “Cards with the Grandparents” weaves samples of the titular family voices into one of James’ repetitive collages, into which she brings the warmth of her heartfelt reflections (“I love being with them / In a rugby town / Belly stuffed with curry and that / And just sitting down”).
Other tracks are subtler in their conjuring. “One Way Ticket to the Midwest (Emo)” sees James team up with Corey Mastrangelo on a wistful instrumental journey into an open 8-bit space. In “I’m Trying to Love Myself”, she unfolds the pain of vulnerability in the form of stuttering sparks over hefty beats, evoking Sisphyean struggles with self-image.
James’s low-key energy lends itself well to collaborations. “Let U Go” puts her beats in murmured conversation with singer-songwriter KeiyaA’s pensive recovery from heartbreak (“I’m eager to discover the crux of why I cry”). RiTchie simmers on “Déjà Vu” over James’s lilting keys and mechanical beats. Experimental singer Marina Herlop winds her sinuously through “While They Were Singing,” while Eden Samara echoes, breath and sound spilling out repeatedly on the ethereal “Try for Me”.
Near the end, George Riley’s melismatic crooning turns “Speechless” into an R&B throwback, albeit one more interesting for James’ signature chopping and screwing. The album ends with vocalist Contour falling solemnly through a list of philosophical quandaries (“I wonder if my organs work outside / I want the ride, I don’t want to arrive”) on “Saying Goodbye.”
Gentle Confrontation has moments that feel like they can fit in the palm of your hand; just as often, it calls for total immersion. Longing builds to tender catharsis, loss to acceptance. Loraine James plunges into open water and keeps going deeper, charting an evanescent path and dwelling in every electric step of the journey.