profile of Paul Verhoeven

Music Video Breakdown - James Blake's new single 'Retrograde'

I feel it's important to try and laud the video for James Blake's superb new track 'Retrograde'. 


Blake is, without doubt, an artist of stunning clarity. He slaved away on three EPs of increasingly declarative uniqueness (the third, CMYK, punctured the gap through which he'd clamber into proper recognition). He became known for his superb cover of Feist's 'Limit to Your Love', his self titled album is a work of staggering density and nuance, and his ensuing releases are infuriatingly beautiful. And he's only 24. What. A. Bastard.

Blake recently announced that his next album, 'Overgrown', will be released on April the 8th, and 'Retrograde' is going to be on it. The track itself is absolutely gorgeous, and seems to work on the brain the same way all of Blake's best works do: gradually, and with a kind of feral electric persistence. His vocals and phrasing are looped, but aren't mechanical; when Blake repeats, he invites us to examine exactly what he's doing. 

But the video for 'Retrograde' is what I want to discuss, if only briefly. It's directed by Martin De Thurah, a Danish director whose previous credits include a bevy of short films and documentaries, and videos for Lindisfarne and Limit to your Love for Blake. He has a damned good eye, though; the entire clip drifts by like a dream, peppered by occasional glimpses of Blake, wearing a turtleneck and blazer, singing and gazing off somewhere just behind the camera.

But what of the narrative? Because there clearly is a narrative here. Something falls from the sky, is spotted by a motorcyclist, and destroys a house. The motorcyclist arrives at the house, somehow in the moment before the destruction occurs, interracts in a sad, detached way with his (?) frozen friends, then it's all over. Oh, and there's also a final tracking shot through the woods behind the house, finishing on a tantalising and unfulfilled glipse at the impact crater.

The whole thing has a weird minimal science fiction vibe, akin to Tarkovsky's Stalker or Solaris. Upon repeat viewings - I've been watching this on a loop all morning - I'm starting to think time has been frozen for everyone near the crash site, and that the motorcyclist in question might be linked to the craft as opposed to the people in the house. So many questions.

Honestly, it might not even matter. The whole thing is unfathomably gorgeous, and there's nothing wrong with a narrative with as many impenetrable vaguaries as this. I do know this: I cannot wait for the album.

/Paul

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