James Blake’s headfirst return to club music could have been predicted. The now LA-based Brit has spent much of the time since 2021’s insular ‘Friends That Break Your Heart’ toying with the electronic sounds that underpinned his early EPs, dropping a mid-set rave into the album’s headline tour and inviting a host of turntable-toting pals to his ‘CMYK’ club nights taking over old and established strobe-filled spaces. That self-led nod to his 2010 breakthrough precedes the newfound frenetic energy of his sixth studio album, easing into an atypically rousing one-two before ‘Tell Me’ unleashes a seemingly cataclysmic barrage of sound. From here, James bonds together the two threads of his career, writhing through the gritty blips of ‘He’s Been Wonderful’ and the glitchy experimentation of ‘Big Hammer’, pairing them with vocal delicacy on ‘Fire The Editor’ and the title track’s eventual Brian Eno-esque minimalism.
It’s a stark contrast to many of James’ contemporaries busy pulling the mainstream into electronic circles, stepping away from the commerciality of ‘Friends…’ in favour of a reinvigorated sweat-inducing dancefloor. It’s a step easily afforded to the forefather of emotion-laden club music, having travelled through a vibrant hedonistic combo of underground pits, festival headline slots and stripped back performances. His unparalleled mastery of each of these settings drips throughout ‘Playing Robots Into Heaven’, as the album ultimately settles on Ibiza-ready shared euphoria masking an ever-bubbling dark undercurrent. Despite – and seemingly deliberately - not carrying the widespread immediacy of more recent releases, it presents James as he currently stands; at once nostalgic and forward-thinking, and firmly back behind the decks.