The Kübler-Ross model has done the bereaved dirty ever since it entered the public consciousness in the 1970s. Its five tidy stages are woefully inadequate to handle the myriad shifting forms of grief: unpredictable physical manifestations, the random recovery or loss of memories, slow-dawning realizations, circular ruminations. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it can help form emotional scar tissue. Loraine James’ third album for Hyperdub, Gentle Confrontation, is a self-examination of the marks and bruises inflicted by a significant loss in childhood. James has always wielded her voice as a malleable tool—sometimes sharpened into a jagged point between glitchy stop-start arrangements and skittering drums, other times barely perceptible beneath woozy pitch bends and plaintive synth chords. But with Gentle Confrontation she sounds newly and vocally vulnerable. “When I was seven my dad went to heaven, possibly,” she croons on “2003,” the album’s lead single. “I looked at the sky: uncertainty/It hurt me, uncertainty.”
In the six years that she’s been releasing music, James has proven herself to be a gifted moodsmith with no shortage of textures to meditate within. Alongside two previous albums of dancefloor-skewed IDM, there was a tender tribute album to minimalist composer Julian Eastman, Building Something Beautiful for Me, and a self-titled LP from her ambient project Whatever the Weather, all released at an impressive pace. In retrospect, it now seems that the Eastman project and Whatever the Weather may have been necessary precursors for James to tap into the marrow of such heartfelt material on Gentle Confrontation. The album’s self-titled opening track elegantly bridges the full expanse of James’ identities in an introduction that feels suitably cinematic: A dramatically swelling orchestral arrangement is given generous space to establish a doleful emotional register before being joined by electronic pulses and sampled drum loops.