James Blake has an innate ability to dive into the ethereal aesthetic of any emotion. He just has one of those voices. Blake vocally flutters and dips into an instrumental connecting his heart forward yet cerebral expression. On “Are You Even Real?” he explores the impassioned state of bewilderment through butterflies filled love.
To explore love as a question is an incredibly effective and tactful choice lyrically. It leaves space for an investigation of the beauty of the unknown and surprising. In his opening lyrics, he sings, “There’s no five years. There’s no ten years. Only this.” Blake communicates how dumbfounding love can force you out of any reflection or anticipation. There is no other feeling on earth that makes you fully live in the now in the same way.
It’s even more interesting as he sings in the chorus that the song’s title is in response to a command by his lover, “tell me how you feel.” This implies that his reaction to their love is hard to read. Blake’s lover seems confused by his astonishment with her and needs clarity. With his responsive question, he provides an answer that can remain unsaid. Then the listener can just share in the joy of Blake’s romantic imagery as he sings lines like, “Late nights, I can see the lust in her. Acid rain is a first for her. Skies open up, share a cup with her.”
The instrumental composition is overwhelmingly complementary to the sentiment and interesting. The elegant opening synths bounce off a grounding classic Blake piano line, which is then pushed forward by driving bass-led percussion and strings. The only other necessary composition is Blake’s ever poignantly placed vocal layers that only increase the effect of the aural scene set.
Before his last expression of the chorus, Blake repeats the phrase, “she ran her hands through my imagination.” His current lover actress and comedian Jameela Jamil one could presume inspired the song. With lyrics like this, it seems she expanded Blake’s idea of his own made-up utopian world inside his head. If this is any sign of what’s to come from Blake’s next body of work, the musical future is enticing.