Two years after his last full-length body of work, James Blake again returns with a subversive yet sensual fourth LP. By no means a departure from his previous work – Blake’s signature warmth and honesty as ever present as it was all those years ago on his 2011 self-titled release – Assume Form sits aside its contemporaries as a euphoric, luscious release.
Amongst a vast majority of glowing reviews, Blake’s discography thus far had received fatuous heckles that he purports nothing but a ‘sad boy’ narrative – a jeer he swiftly, justly and elegantly rebuked in a Twitter post last May, in which he reminded critics that the primary role of art (besides espousing beauty (which his work certainly does)) is the facilitation of self-expression. Whining archaics aside, his previous work has both attracted and inspired a number of giants within the industry: Frank Ocean, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, André 3000, Travis Scott, Justin Vernon, Kanye West, etc – and rightly so.
With these amassed credentials on his side, Blake’s latest output accentuates a rich sonic development across his modest discography alike no other artist. From post-dubstep to alternative R&B to Future Garage, Blake is refreshingly dissident in his music, blurring the lines between conventional genres. Assume Form, however, emerges as his most sonically conformist and satisfied piece of work to date yet, at the same time, never appears to compromise on creativity and is thoroughly experimental in nature.
The relationship he shares with the eminent Jameela Jamil is evidently somewhat responsible for Blake’s shift in content. For want of a better word, Assume Form is full of optimism – professing or perhaps advocating the positive influence love can have on otherwise salient feelings of depression, hesitation and anxiety, themes that seem to underscore Blake’s experience. The duality felt on the album’s lead single, Mile High (feat. Travis Scott), works as an endearing attraction to the rest of Blake’s work, acting as a taster to both the album and the rogue undertones that often entrap love.
Delving into the core of the album, the awesome tracks Barefoot in the Park (feat. Rosaliá) and Tell Them (feat. Moses Sumney & Metro Boomin) are clear highlights and both testament to Blake’s experimental allure and ability to capture the best from his collaborators. My personal favourite from this album: Where’s the Catch? (feat André 3000), manages still to be a clear standout. Catching a rare glimpse of the enigmatic André 3k would be enough for this song to hold a special place in my heart, yet the sheer quality of André’s verse is what primarily has me itching for more. It sits atop a haunting beat and aside an array of dazzling vocals in which Blake basks in excess but prominently fears inevitability. An honourable mention must additionally go to the stunning finale, Lullaby For My Insomniac – a song as beautiful as it is pensive. An album standing tall amongst an unimpressive crowd of 2019 releases, Assume Form remains my favourite of the year so far – not a perfect album, but certainly worth a listen.