James Blake – ‘Assume Form’ review

Assume Form, James Blake’s fourth studio album, is an emotive statement of maturity. Featuring André 3000 and Travis Scott, this record cements the British musician as a world-class producer. 

James Blake was already a trusted heavyweight before this album. His first three records reflected a troubled and shy deep-thinker who was so fluent in production that listeners could say, with fair certainty, what Blake was feeling as he wrote the songs. 

On-the-surface listeners wouldn’t be shamed upon for spreading the local hearsay that Blake is the custodian of unrequited, heartbroken sounds and nothing more. This ‘sad-boy’ facade covers a man with deeper talents and interests: investigative punters could find him at the helm of a bass-heavy electronic night with his 1800-Dinosaur collective. Blake’s repertoire runs deeper than the studio.

Knowing this, you can begin to hear it in his music. His debut self-titled release involved vocoders, dark samples and loops, ‘Overgrown’ contained much the same with added techno influences. Then in 2016, we received ‘The Colour In Anything’, a forlorn group of songs for a rainy, feel-sorry-for-yourself kind of day. 

Assume Form is James Blake’s career’s water filterer. It offers an instant clarity and healthiness both in production and lyricism. His opening track, by the same name, arrives with treble-emphasised keys and audibly emotional lyrics: “Doesn’t it seem much warmer, just knowing the sun will be out?” 

When I saw the Travis Scott feature on Blake’s promotional posts last week, I was apprehensive – due solely to my over-scepticism of new-wave hip-hop. My worries were that the collision of a post-genre sweet-singer and a beyond A-list trap rapper would dilute those hard-hitting feelings that are usually inflicted from a solo James Blake track. How wrong I was – the concoction of the two works harmoniously, with their altered pitched vocals running over a smooth beat. 

The album wouldn’t be Blake’s without at least a scattering of ballads – both ‘Into The Red’ and ‘Lullaby For My Insomniac’ take on this role; both seemingly odes to Blake’s partner, the presenter and actress Jameela Jamil. ‘I Can’t Believe The Way We Flow’ follows in similar vain, with echoing vocals that are full of feeling. Interestingly, Blake holds back the bass on this track – it is definitely crying out for at least a kick drum at its highest heights. 

The obvious stand-out track on the album is ‘Where’s The Catch’, which features OutKast rapper André 3000. It’s beauty comes from the fact that during the beginnings of the song, it could pass off as just another woozy James Blake number. But, unexpectedly yet almost effortlessly, André enters the fray with his trademark lively flow. The beat is melodious yet gritty, sharp yet sludgy, dreary yet uptempo. These juxtapositions are sacrosanct.

Assume Form is a manifesto detailing James Blake’s return to happiness and content. It is a logbook of love and a letting-go of lament. It is a reflection of a young artist in control, at his very best. 

words by Will McCartney

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