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Loraine James’s flurry continues with Gentle Confrontation's knotty explorations of home, family and adolescence

"Gentle Confrontation"

Release date: 22 September 2023
Loraine James Gentle Confrontation cover
19 September 2023, 09:00 Written by Joe Creely

Breaking out with 2019s masterful For You And I, Loraine James has been reshaping IDM into her own expressive, vulnerable image.

With each new release, she's been taking the genre out of its abstracted origins, and into something more reflective, finding an R&B heart to wrap it all around. This new record is no different, but pushes even further into James’s life, even more domestic, even more revealing and through it becomes more complete as a record than 2021's Reflections, and possibly her finest work since her initial breakthrough.

The drift away from sonic abrasion James has enacted throughout her career continues here, opting for a palette of delicate electric pianos, softly done barely there vocals and reverb-drenched synths that could sit happily on a record by her ambient alter ego Whatever The Weather. It works tremendously well. "2003" manages to sculpt this growing sense of scale without ever really altering its make-up of soft synth pulses and delicate vocals, while all the gently wavering bass of the latter half of "I’m Trying To Love Myself" gives it a beautiful weightlessness at its centre, even while the drums develop into a whirlwind about it. This tone gives it the intimacy that James has been hovering around her whole career, but on "Cards With Grandparents" it reaches its logical conclusion, a flurry of voices and cards slapping hands buoyed by lurching wonky rhythms that works impeccably and carries the kind of domesticity it reaches for.

"Cards With Grandparents" lyrics’ are, as is generally the case with James, plainspoken to the nth degree, never heightened or affected in any way. Combined with her low-energy singing style it is an approach that walks a very narrow tightrope and doesn’t always succeed in not tumbling off it, sometimes breaking down a feeling to the point of being facile. However, there are as many moments where her vocals are the absolute bedrock of a track, as on "Glitch The System", where her words gum the whole thing to a central point, and allow the rest of the track to twitch and whirl about it like a malfunctioning wind turbine. Her lyrics do find their best homes in the mouths of features though; KeiyaA’s layers form a gorgeously silken lattice of harmonies, while Contour brings a vast sense of space to closer "Saying Goodbye", his unforced vocals grand enough to close the album in a new landscape, but unaffected and intimate enough to not lose the closeness that is the record’s heart.

It should be said though that James doesn’t abandon her ability for absolute rippers in the way of sincerity, if anything one of the album’s great strengths is the way it manages to do both simultaneously. The barnstorming D'n'B drums of "I DM U" are elevated and sweetened by some gorgeous synth tones and the slightest little chirrups of keys, whilst "While They Were Singing" is a return to the kind of thing that made James’s name, pummelling kicks and snares that sound like TV static, but Marina Herlop’s chopped up coos and runs slip a river of sugar amongst all the battering. These are the kind of things you get the sense James could do in her sleep at this point but it never feels like someone coasting, always something unfamiliar appearing, or a structural about turn to uproot expectations. It all points to an artist in a constant state of development, of interrogation of their ideas about their life and music, one who it seems will only continue to produce enthralling work.

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