I press play on Unluck, track one, side one of James Blake’s self titled album. As the song progresses I begin to feel the tension building in me. The notes and chord progressions are just off, so wrong. As the dissonance washes over the office I feel the need to turn it down so as not to upset my co-workers ears. The interesting thing is that, I’m using them as an excuse to turn it down. The music is making me uncomfortable. It’s such a departure from the clean, syrupy-sweet perfection of modern pop music, or modern music in general. It makes me squirm, like watching people argue in public or hearing a baby screaming its lungs out on the bus. These things break the quiet status quo that I’ve become used to. Habits form quickly, and don’t break easy.
Whether through the shiny advertisements, the perfectly quantised, auto-tuned pop music or the perceived idyllic lives of the people I admire: I have come to know the world as being perfect. Anything that runs counter is awkward. But in that awkward moment, wanting to turn the track down, I realised something beautiful about James Blake’s music. It plays with dissonance. It plays with tension and release. It plays with me.
It may seem a little absurd, but hidden in that dissonance and tension is a comment on my life. I avert my eyes when I see people fighting, when I pass a homeless person begging for change. I turn up my music when that child is screaming on the bus or someone is talking loudly on the phone, being abusive to the person on the other end. I push away the rough edges and recede into the plastic perfection of whatever over-produced track I have scrolled to on my phone.
It’s a problem in my life at the moment. I am expecting things to be perfect and when something doesn’t quite fit, I block it out. But I’m living in an artificial place. It feels fake. It feels hollow. The greatest aspect of Blake’s music is that the dissonance makes the harmonious moments that much sweeter when they come. In those brief moments when everything lines up, there’s a sense of euphoria, of true happiness. What I need to do is start embracing the imperfection so when those genuinely harmonious moments occur in my life, I appreciate them for what they are. Rare and wonderful.