James Blake has shared a cover of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, the iconic Christmas carol first set to music in 1906 by Gustav Holst and popularized by Harold Darke in 1911. Stream it below exclusively through Apple Music.
The Assume Form singer was approached by Apple Music to record a holiday song for their streaming platform earlier this year. At first, Blake wasn’t sure which song to pick, namely because he wanted to choose something pop-leaning that would do well on a playlist. That’s when he began a mental tug-of-war about playing into algorithms versus staying true to his interests. Eventually, Blake realized he should just pick an old British gem he loves instead.
“Look man, all the pop Christmas songs have been covered a million times. I’m not going to out-sing Mariah,” Blake told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “I have a huge fondness for choral music, Anglican church spiritual vibes, even though I’m not particularly religious. There’s something very appealing to me about the feeling I get from classical choral music. And I loved it when Jeff Buckley did that cover ‘Corpus Christi.’ In the back of my mind, there’s always been a thing where I’ve got to tackle something [like that].”
And so Blake’s cover of “In the Bleak Midwinter” was born. In this version, Blake overlaps his vocals to give the choir effect the original version practically mandates, but he also sneaks a smooth synth line beneath it all. As the song progresses, that electronic backbone grows louder and louder, an effect that almost feels like hearing a church organ speak its mind mid-hymn.
Good news for people who love Blake’s inventive covers. He recently announced a Covers EP is on the way and it will feature his takes on Frank Ocean’s “Godspeed” as well as Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. Combine that with his surprise Before EP and it certainly feels like Blake’s been in a gift-giving mood this holiday season.