The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | James Blake’s seventh studio album ‘Playing Robots into Heaven’

English artist James Blake released his seventh album, ‘Playing Robots into Heaven,’ on Sept. 8. He showcased his vocal range and talent for production on eleven songs about gratitude, life, and time.
James Blake performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival in Austin, TX on October 7, 2022.

James Blake released his seventh studio album “Playing Robots into Heaven,” this month. 

The album showcased Blake’s affinity for synth harmonization and his taste in samples with the incorporation of sounds and bits of American artists, like Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir and Snoop Dogg, and contributions from Jameela Jamil, Dominic Maker, Khushi, and Rob McAndrews. 

Blake’s sixth album, “Wind Down,” is a collection of relaxing soundscapes that was created in collaboration with the music app Endel in 2022. “Playing Robots into Heaven” similarly presents Blake’s vocals and keyboard music, with the addition of drums and organs. 

Blake is a talented producer, singer, and songwriter from England. He released his first record in 2009 and has since amassed a global audience. 

Blake contributed to the soundtrack for the 2023 Marvel movie, “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse,” and he recently received a Latin Grammy Award for Album Of The Year in 2022 for his writing and production on Spanish artist Rosalia’s album, “Motomami.” 

Related: Review | Olivia Rodrigo’s second album, ‘Guts,’ conquers youth and growing pains

“Playing Robots into Heaven” presents songs with minimal lyrics and the sounds of Blake’s voice and keyboards with the tones of each song ranging from upbeat to haunting. 

The second song in the album, “Loading,” which Blake released as a single on July 26, 2023, serves as an introduction to Blake’s theme on “Playing Robots into Heaven.” 

It simultaneously suggests a sense of euphoria and doom with a fast-paced synth and drum beat. The song’s build-up to a chorus about “my wings loading” further alludes to the idea of arriving at a musical landscape. 

Blake chose sound samples that reference technology, like the ringtone from Austin Powers in the third song, “Tell Me,” and a bell tone sample in the last song, “Playing Robots Into Heaven.” 

The fourth song, “Fall Back,” is from a track introduced to Blake by the South London producer Yaw Evans. The rolling drum mix featured in this song makes it one of my favorites on the album. 

The fifth song, “He’s Been Wonderful,” features a sample from the song “Wonderful,” which was on the 1971 gospel album “Like a Ship Without a Sail” by Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir. Blake chose to include a clip of Pastor T.L. Barrett singing praise for God: “He has really been wonderful.” 

The seventh song, “I Want You To Know,” showcases a sample of the 2002 release “Beautiful” by Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams, and Charlie Wilson. The song is about a young woman that Snoop Dogg admires. Pharrell proclaims “You’re my favorite girl. I just wanted you to know that you are really special.” 

Blake chose a song about admiration for a masculine subject with “He’s Been Wonderful” and for a feminine subject with “I Want You To Know.” He personalized these messages with his own manipulated vocal bits and lyrics. 

The second to last song “If You Can Hear Me” was written for the movie “Ad Astra” for the scene where an astronaut contacts his father, who may not return from space. The song was not featured in the film but deserves recognition as a thematic ode to the life cycle and families. 

Blake’s beats shine “Playing Robots into Heaven.” This album is suitable for commuting, exercising, and as background music because each song has a distinguishable rhythm and well-harmonized instrumental compositions.

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About the Contributor
Olivia Hamilton
Olivia Hamilton, Arts Reporter
Olivia Hamilton is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in 3D Design. Prior to her role as an Arts Reporter at The Daily Iowan, Olivia was a videographer at the California publication, City on a Hill Press.