Image by Suleika Müller
There is a moment on Reflection, the third album from London producer Loraine James, where she confronts her audience directly, casually breaking the fourth wall on a track titled Self Doubt (Leaving The Club Early). “I know you may not like this one. But it’s just fun, you know, it’s just fun.” It is a deeply affecting moment of vulnerability that only someone on the outside would understand. It’s that moment when you arrive at the DJ booth before the masses, and you know instinctively that your point of view is going to fly right over their heads; faced with the choice to conform or die. James refuses to conform, instead she asks you to listen. She shares her fears, her experience in a way that instantly establishes the very human soul at the centre of her electronic music.
There are a few of these confessional moments on Reflection, such as the title track when James admits “haven’t seen family or friends from Rugby to Essex,” and tries to assure herself that “everything will be fine.” It’s a statement so direct in its honesty, and one which literally everybody can relate to (or have at least made ourselves) post-lockdown. It’s the honesty across this album that elevates it toward a quiet confidence. The same frustrations of the black queer experience first proposed on the breakthrough For You and I are still there but, unlike the grime soaked rage of So Scared, here they appear to have been ruminated upon, revealing James as an artist who now takes power from that same turbulence. Take So Scared against the Reflection’s closing track, We’re Building Something New (ft Iceboy Violet). Both largely present the same argument, but the latter does so with a phlegmatic sense of awareness that suggests a process of growth and self-assurance from the initial vexations of So Scared.
Musically, the album continues from For You and I. The R&B and glitchy drill influences are still there but overall, as its title may suggest, Reflection is far more meditative and pensive. There’s a stronger lean into pop writing on Reflection, such as the breathy “running like that” hook on Running Like That (ft. Eden Samara). With this comes flavours of FKA Twigs in the way the music holds its space and erratic sounds with poised confidence and subtle lyrical earworms, and on opener Built to Last, James experiments with Fever Ray style transhumanism with pitched down, genderless vocals.
You could call her music ‘experimental,’ and perhaps the experimentalism can be found in how she uses her positionality to translate the familiar sounds of club music for the experience of ‘the other.’ James has always made dance music that challenges you. She is known for her sharp turns and ambiguous melodies, for making you think you’re going in one direction and then revealing you’ve been lost the entire time. She doesn’t make dance music that blends into the scenery around her, rather it is the sort of music that seems to propose an alternate reading of that scenery at all times. In many ways, she is a master of flipping the gaze; presenting us with the familiar but only through the lens of her experience, making it suddenly unexpected. Things are always just a little tilted, a little skewed. On Simple Stuff, a breakbeat is discernible but just slightly syncopated enough that it sounds undefinable. On The Lake Outside (Ft Baths) is constantly twisting and amorphous. The vocals here move from lounge jazz to chopped Björk until eventually sinking into James’s stuttering pattern of percussive bass altogether. This formula of bass science dominates most of Reflection’s aesthetic, recreating the sensation of slowing down or rather being forced to slow down as the world around you stops.
There is a sense of acceptance in Reflection, a sense of understanding that establishes James as a force and commands our respect. “I know you might not like this one. So press the skip button” she continues Self Doubt (Leaving The Club Early). By the end of Reflection, we refuse to use the skip button in her presence ever again.
Reflection is released via Hyperdub and is available on vinyl or to download here.
Follow Loraine James: