“I will assume form,” Blake sings on the chorus of the opener. “I’ll leave the ether.”
If you know anything about the music of British singer/electronic producer James Blake at all, then you’re probably familiar with his brand of melancholy. Songs like “Don’t Miss It,” from this most recent album, are no doubt beautiful, but the paint a portrait of a man who is undoubtedly depressed and alienated from the world. This penchant for emotional vulnerability in his music has earned him the perception of a “sad” artist, a label which he has spoken against.
So the introduction to his latest album, Assume Form, while it sounds similar to what he’s done in the past, features a sort of emotional breakthrough. “The plan is to become reachable, to assume material form, to leave my head and join the world,” Blake says of the title track. “These slight feelings of repression lead to this feeling of I’m not in my body, I’m not really experiencing life through first-person…which is a phenomenon a lot of people describe when they talk about depression.”
Assume Form, James Blake’s first album in almost three years, is an album characterized by Blake’s typical emotional transparency — except that this time, he sounds much more determined to leave the comfort of alienation and rejoin the world; or, in his words, to “assume form.”
And it seems that love is the primary driving force for this sudden emotional change. Whether he’s consciously trying to shed the “depressed” archetype, or whether he has genuinely found himself in the most ecstatic period of his life (I’ll assume the latter), what’s very apparent is that Mr. Blake has assumed a form we’ve rarely heard him in: upbeat and blissful. Songs like “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow” and “I’ll Come Too” reveal a man who sounds absolutely entranced by the woman he’s found himself with — a selfless woman who, as he describes on the song “Into the Red,” would make significant sacrifices for him.
Assume Form is also heavily aided by its fantastic features. Blake’s ventures into the hip-hop/R&B world — which include collaborations with artists like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Travis Scott — manifest themselves on the spacey “Mile High Club” featuring the Houston trap star, the uptempo “Tell Them,” and the song “Where’s the Catch,” which features an incredibly “heady-ass verse” from hip-hop legend André 3000. Meanwhile, Blake teams up with rising pop-flamenco star ROSALÍA for an absolutely gorgeous duet on the song “Barefoot in the Park,” a standout amongst the exceptional tracklist.
That isn’t to say that this album doesn’t have its share of blues, like “Are You In Love?” and the aforementioned “Don’t Miss It,” but for the most part, the British musician paints in warmer colors on Assume Form. And despite the fact that 2019 has gotten off to a slow start, James Blake has supplied one of the handful of truly exceptional album releases so far this year.