Black and white image of the album artwork for Playing Robots Into Heaven by James Blake, showing the musician wearing a large tannoy like device on his back surrounded by other people forming a queue as they walk up a hill that slopes diagonally across the bottom third of the image

Inside James Blake’s transcendent album visuals

James Blake’s latest LP, Playing Robots into Heaven, sees him step out of the shadows and into the foreground. We hear from one of his newly installed creative directors, Jamie Adair of Crowns & Owls, about how the album creative reflects this juncture in Blake’s career

In 2022, the New Yorker published a piece about James Blake’s ambient composition in collaboration with soundscapes app Endel, which said that it sounded like “the soul of Blake’s music has been separated from the machine and is drifting off on its own”. At the time, Blake was likely applying the finishing touches to his first bona fide album since 2021: Playing Robots into Heaven, a name that indicates the influence of his equipment on the production. This thread carries through to the suite of visuals surrounding the release, which show how the music and the machine are firmly back in one another’s grip.

This album marks the first since appointing Crowns & Owls – made up of Jamie Adair, Rory Martinez, and Tom Harrison – as his ongoing creative directors after crossing paths organically on past projects. “James has never really had a creative partner before. Everything’s been done with the management or label, and I think he’d arrived at a point where he was just keen to tell a story with the visual elements, because he’d never really done it to a level that he felt was a big coherent package,” explains Adair. “Also he’s adjacent to some of the biggest artists on the planet all the time, who are very, very aesthetically driven people.”

Bringing Crowns & Owls into the fold has revealed an opportunity to present a different side to the artist – the product of what have clearly been some thorough conversations about the juncture Blake is at in his career. Adair describes this journey as being from a “mysterious” artist who emerged in the early 2010s to entering a “more accessible arena” with the last few albums.

Black and white image of a single artwork from Playing Robots Into Heaven by James Blake, showing the musician wearing headwear covered in cables which appear to be inserted into his head
Top: Playing Robots into Heaven album art; Above: Big Hammer single artwork. All photos by Thibaut Grevet