Listening to Loraine James is an act of reverence. The 27-year-old has managed to build a cult following thanks to her inventive songwriting and emotionally nuanced perspectives. It’s no surprise that she continues that legacy with her fourth album ‘Gentle Confrontation’, a collection of tracks that explore the aftermath of her father’s passing in 2003.
James interprets “gentle confrontation” in a number of ways. Bursts of digital sampling blend with acoustic elements, as though James is musically dissociating. On the album’s haunting opening title track, James’ voice appears against regal strings, eventually fragmented and disintegrating into grain and grit. ‘I DM U’ begins with what sounds like a typical IDM break flip, gently transitioning into an incredible drum solo courtesy of Black Midi’s Morgan Simpson.
The album also features James’ various monologues which she recites occasionally with a deadpan delivery teetering on underwhelming. More often than not, James uses it to powerful effect, and the poetry she writes is touching. On album highlight ‘Cards With The Grandparents’, she blends the slick smack of cards with pillowy synths and the sounds of James and her grandparents conversing and laughing; the result is sweetly nostalgic upon first listen. Midway through, something snaps. Through jilted rhythms, in her trademark low-key voice, she reveals her grandfather has dementia: “I think they think I’ve forgotten/I will come out soon/I hate that it’s once in a blue moon.”
With the help of her childhood musical loves, James is able to face this confrontation. There’s her take on Midwest emo, where intertwining guitars provide an angelic reprieve. The R&B influence that filters through much of her work also makes a reappearance, and the genre’s serpentine movements and smooth vocalists help to end the album on a peaceful note thanks to guest, writer and producer Contour.
Though the tracklist is perhaps a little bloated, Lorraine James continues to prove why she is so vital in the electronic music scene. Never afraid to push boundaries or show vulnerability, James creates a compelling world of sound with ‘Gentle Confrontation’, and does so with grace. An incredible achievement.
- Release date: September 22, 2023
- Record label: Hyperdub