James Blake’s Love Song
By: Connor Lenahan
When Pitchfork released their list of the “Top 100 Songs of 2013,” they ranked “Retrograde” by James Blake at #21. A few other sites I had seen had also included “Retrograde” as one of the top songs of the year. I had never heard this song, nor did I have any idea as to who James Blake was.
I read the blurb about “Retrograde” on Pitchfork’s list and was immediately intrigued. One part of their review captured my attention specifically. “’Retrograde’ will go down as the exact moment when [Blake] exited his hermetic cave of existential, world-weary grief and found a way to make being in love sound…actually about as lonely as not being in love. It’s complicated.”
I rushed to go listen to the song. I was sold by that description alone. Blake has a beautiful falsetto that begins the song along with a hollow piano. This song reminds me of Drake’s Nothing Was The Same via an odd production choice. While listening to “Retrograde” it seems as though there is a larger space the song occupies than the inches between your ears. There is an expansive soundscape for the music to play on. “Retrograde” has this, as does songs like “Own It,” “The Lanugage,” “Worst Behavior,” and “Too Much” from Nothing Was The Same.
The mellow vibe of the song builds along with Blake’s voice before crashing with the line “Suddenly I’m hit/Is this darkness of the dawn?” I still get shivers even after countless replays the past few days. “Retrograde” has this odd ability to suck you in through the keys that fill the previously empty space the song echoed through. It’s haunting. It’s captivating. It’s wonderful.
Blake claims the song’s meaning is about falling in love, yet it’s impossible to leave this song without feeling two things: 1. The need to further understand what is going on within the track; as Pitchfork said, it’s complicated. There are many beautiful moving
pieces to digest. And 2. The feeling of isolation. Blake repeats “Ignore everybody else, we’re alone now,” and “your friends are gone, your friends won’t come,” multiple times. For a love song, it forces loneliness like solitary confinement on Valentine’s Day.
Blake’s voice and musicianship are what steal the show. Everything about this track is powerful while remaining calm. Blake is a wizard. This is why Pitchfork named it one of the best songs of the year, and that’s why I wholeheartedly agree.
Connor Lenahan (@ConnorLenahan) is the founder and editor-in-chief of Connorlenahan.com. He is a freshman at Boston University, majoring in journalism. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org