Loraine James Preserves Love's Artifacts on 'Gentle Confrontation'

BY Chris BrysonPublished Sep 20, 2023

With every album, one gets the sense that Loraine James has discovered new facets of herself, however big or small they may be. "I really cherish / Playing cards with the grandparents," she speaks with familial closeness on her new LP, Gentle Confrontation. "My grandad has dementia / He's still very cool." Soft keys drift through snaps, pops and home-recorded snippets as James admits, "I hate that it's once in a blue moon" when she sees them. Her relatable reflections give her music emotional power, soul-searching through turbulent, otherworldly spaces.

The Londoner has charted a distinct path threading elements of IDM, ambient, and glitch with R&B, hip-hop, math rock, UK drill and bass and beyond. She debuted on the taste-making Ghostly International as Whatever the Weather and put out acclaimed releases on Hyperdub while becoming one of experimental electronic music's most shapeshifting, forward-thinking producers, innovating across releases while increasing her lyrical vulnerability. James often juxtaposes her anxiety struggles with caring confessionalism, giving her knotty, unpredictable work graceful counterpoints and uncommon intimacy.

As a queer Black person who's often felt the need to filter herself, James's creative curiosity appears uninhibited, and her music benefits greatly from it. Gentle Confrontation uses whimsy to explore themes of purpose, perseverance, relationships, and understanding. Her complex fantasias — volatile but controlled, ethereal and kinetic — are woven together with the mastery of a skilled composer, and she's grown increasingly comfortable letting her introspectiveness shine through.

From swells of strings, "Gentle Confrontation" amasses an alternate reality — distant woodpecker-like knocks and bird whistles surround scurrying mechanical beats, sonic responses to lyrics of tiredness, boredom, and maybe one day feeling something real. On "2003" — inspired by the 20th anniversary of James's father's death — she ruminates, "When I was seven / My Dad went to heaven, possibly." From that last word's weight, she sings of confusion, her mother's protection and swinging from uncertainty to certainty in a chamber of echoes, the memories distant but not forgotten. 

James's love for American Football emanates from the fingerpicked guitar and shimmery, wistful refrains of "One Way Ticket to the Midwest (Emo)," while Marina Herlop's angelic delivery amplifies the erratic alien beauty of the crackly, bass-booming "While They Were Singing." Dreamy, swirling pads and pitter-patter percussion evoke an irresistible sway on "Let U Go," showcasing James's evolving pop instincts and featuring Chicago's KeiyaA, whose vocals flow like honey over glistening keys, fluttering drums and catapulting melancholic melodies. Even with its sparkle, it gets to the grit — "I pick up my heart and attempt to look inside / it won't come apart despite how I try / I'm eager to discover the crux of why I cry / I pick up my mind and cry out in vain / Am I ashamed of being in pain?" KeiyaA sings — digging deep to mend broken hearts.

Then, "I DM U" offers a remarkable stint of analog drumming. Clever interplay guides the track's dazzling dialogue as ribbons of synth morph around winding, jazzy drum progressions courtesy of Morgan Simpson, the tireless engine usually propelling black midi, who dances around and within James with artful flourishes, frenetic finesse and intricate restraint. 

Across Gentle Confrontation, James not only channels teenage favourites like Lusine and Telefon Tel Aviv but also samples the former's "Ask You" on "2003," while comedown closer "Saying Goodbye," featuring Contour's elusive poetics, clips from the latter's "Fahrenheit Fair Enough." Hyper-percussive "Prelude of Tired of Me" details how "Everything was accurate / Everything was smooth," yet James struggles to catch feelings and understand the version of who she is, while on "Tired of Me" she shifts from staccato bars over thunderous drums into delicate croons amid vast, twinkling ambience — still finding her way, a sense of wonder comes through. 

James's production remains impressive, and the record's collaborators add enticing variety. The strange creation assembled on "I'm Trying To Love Myself" is a prime example. Or "Glitch the System (Glitch Bitch 2)," which embraces buggy beats, pitched vocals and repeated phrases. Its near-mid-song breakbeat deploys one of the LP's most alluring grooves and James trails its motif through the track's remainder, wrapped in playful tones and textures. 

Telefon Tel Aviv's Joshua Eustis once noted his appreciation for the "tremendous amount of curiosity" heard in James's music, and it's at the intersection of curiosity and vulnerability where she concocts her best work. Gentle Confrontation learns and preserves artifacts of the mind, appreciating special moments that many leave lost in time. 

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