For You And I felt like the kind of record that would be hard to follow. Released on Hyperdub near the end of 2019, that futuristic and deeply personal album earned James a devoted audience, and a place on all the year-end lists. But she was only getting started. Her records since then have been just as inspired, from official EPs like Nothing and Bangers & Mash, to her killer appearances on Haus Of Altr’s compilations, to “31st December 2020,” a free Bandcamp release she uploaded at the start of the year (and, as promised, deleted a couple days later). Warm, bumping and unpredictable, all twisted drum patterns with flecks of rap and R&B, James’s style is mesmerizing on its own. That she uses it as a language to tell tender truths about herself and the world around her—a rare feat for electronic artists—is what really sets her apart. On Reflection, she does this better than ever. For You And I was a collage of different sounds, each beautifully done and nicely placed alongside the others. On Reflection, the sounds all gel together. Where the previous album felt eclectic, this one feels streamlined even if its range is just as broad. When juddering IDM beats swerve into something like rap, R&B or UK drill, it’s less a left turn than a smooth curve. Guest artists, from rappers like Xzavier Stone to a return appearance from Le3 bLACK, move elegantly through the ethereal world she constructs. A deeply personal element still animates James’s music. Her spoken-word bit on the title track paints a scene we all know too well: Covid-19-era isolation. “Haven’t seen family or friends from Rugby to Essex,” she deadpans. “Feels like the walls are caving in… there’s no end to this, probably.” (Recorded in summer of last year, the whole album has the quiet tenseness of the lockdown era.) Even on a non-verbal level, Reflection bears James’s soul, always capturing with perfect honesty where she was at when she made it—a quality that might explain the LP’s title. “You may not like this one,” she says on “Self Doubt (Leaving The Club Early).” “That’s just fine, press that skip button.” There’s no “fuck you” element here, or at least there doesn’t seem to be. She sounds relaxed, honestly saying, “If you don’t like this, cool, skip it.” This is fearless music, in the sense that James really doesn’t care if you like it or not. But it’s also sweet and humble, not so much a confrontation as an offering to the listener that they can take (or not). It’s also just a beautiful album with a dizzying level of artistry, from the fluid sculptures of each production to the varied and inspired guest performances. All of them are great, but Nova takes the cake for me, partly thanks to the line “gettin’ wet on a Drexciya flex,” off my personal favorite from the album, “Insecure Behaviour And Fuckery.” “Running Like That,” featuring the singer Eden Samara, is ecstatically beautiful pop music, one you have to keep coming back to. Reflection bangs, sounds enormous cranked up loud, but it’s also dreamlike and soothing. There is plenty of pain and uncertainty in these tracks. But altogether, the album is a salve for the listener, and maybe for James herself.
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