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Loraine James
Gentle Confrontation Alastair Shuttleworth , September 20th, 2023 08:01

Gentle Confrontation finds the Enfield IDM producer at her most personal and most inventive, finds Alastair Shuttleworth

Loraine James’ richly detailed, expressive IDM has always felt most compelling where it has told us something about the artist herself. Following last year’s Building Something Beautiful For Me, responding to works by Julius Eastman, her new album Gentle Confrontation puts her own story front-and-centre: exploring family and self-love, with nods to her previous work and early influences including DNTEL (sampled in ‘I’m Trying To Love Myself’) and Telefon Tel Aviv (sampled in ‘Saying Goodbye’). Its brilliance lies in how its ideas feel like they’re always still being formed.

At the heart of Gentle Confrontation is a shifting, exploratory relationship between airy ambient and jerky, pointillistic beats. Programmed drums emerge beneath the title-track’s string swells and high synths, recede, then re-emerge: only after the track rethinks its entrance do James’ vocals finally enter. In some instances, these changes are supported by live instrumentation, as in ‘I DM U’ where James’ programmed beats trade off to live drums by Black Midi’s Morgan Simpson. Taken together, these constant shifts in texture and setting give the album a probing, inquisitive quality.

This supports James’ simple, diaristic reflections upon herself and her family, which often feel like they are being formed in real time. “When I was 7 / my Dad went to heaven – possibly,” she sings contemplatively on ‘2003’. On album-highlight ‘Cards With The Grandparents’, where field-recordings of shuffling cards morph into a disorientating beat, James again seems to be thinking out loud about her ageing relatives: “I don’t see them that often / I think they think that I’ve forgotten.” This introspection extends to her career, revisiting her 2019 track ‘Glitch Bitch’ in ‘Glitch The System (Glitch Bitch 2)’: “it’s Friday evening / oh let’s take the piss” she deadpans inscrutably, in an arrangement wavering between joy and melancholy.

The struggle to untangle complex emotions is reframed by James’ featured vocalists. “I’m eager to discover the crux of why I cry,” sings KeiyaA’s on the R&B-inflected ‘Let U Go’, echoed in the dub-setting of ‘Try For Me’ by Eden Samara: “maybe I would like to comprehend myself again.” Elsewhere, Gentle Confrontation speaks to listeners attempting this untangling. In 'Speechless' George Riley addresses someone struggling to communicate, and – while she distances herself to give them space – offers some reassurance: “I know you can find all the words at the end.” RiTchie offers stronger encouragement on ‘Déjà Vu’: “just take a breather / I’m proud of you.”

These moments suggest another significance to James’ shifting, unstable arrangements: while our feelings on ourselves and families can be complicated, they will change as we work to make sense of them. In sharing her experience of doing this, James’ most exploratory album also proves to be her most open-hearted.