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James Blake explores romanticism on ‘Assume Form’

| Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Observer | Lina Domenella

James Blake gained a reputation as a “sad boy” after the release of his previous album, “The Colour in Anything.” With a runtime exceeding an hour and fifteen minutes, his third project hinges on stripped-down, electronic tracks that are gloomy and characteristic of an artist going through personal struggle. Although Blake pushed back on the “sad boy” label he was pigeonholed into, many came to associate Blake with the airy falsetto and electronic production found on tracks like “Love Me in Whatever Way” from “The Colour in Anything.” “Assume Form,” his latest LP, has been in the making for well over two years. The large span of time between “The Colour in Anything” and “Assume Form” was occupied by Blake’s work on projects like Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and the “Black Panther” soundtrack.

Work on other creative projects aside, Blake began dating British “The Good Place” actress Jameela Jamil during this two year gap. This newfound love in Blake’s life has had a tremendous impact on the way Blake approaches songwriting and production on “Assume Form.” For the most part, downtrodden and somber tracks are replaced by songs that exude warmth and love. A ray of sunshine seems to have penetrated the clouds that surrounded Blake on “The Colour in Anything’s” cover art. On the track “Can’t Believe the Way We Love,” a Blake loops a soulful, doo-wop sample while he reminisces on his relationship with Jamil. He exclaims, “I could’ve used you in the early days / Well, it’s been such a long, long, long, long time.” Jameela Jamil has influenced his music in a positive way, a way that has removed Blake from a stylistic rut that was constricting his creative output.

The ballads that existed on Blake’s previous albums still exist, yet they exist in a completely different form. On the moving track “Into the Red,” Blake croons, “She was the gold rush, she was the gold rush / She was the gold rush / She sold every hand in her pocket / And she sawed off every hand.” This is Blake’s songwriting at its best. His lyrics are relatable, his vocals are stunning, and his production is near-flawless. On “I’ll Come to You” Blake’s voice is light and airy as it drifts and floats over soulful samples and production. The song oozes with warmth and love, a display of Blake’s newfound romanticism that we as listeners can feel and relate too.

Although the highlights of this album are fantastic, “Assume Form” falls short in a few places. The title track seems like a hodge-podge of vocals and piano, featuring a high-pitched, looped vocal sample. Another track that falls short is the Metro Boomin-produced “Mile High,” which features Houston rapper Travis Scott. The vocals of Blake and Scott do not mix well, and the production from Metro Boomin seems generic and uninspired. This is not characteristic of the other Metro Boomin-produced track “Tell Them,” which features a more exciting trap beat and a Moses Sumney feature that works well with Blake’s voice and performance style.

This album is a monumental success for Blake, both sonically and lyrically. He ventures into a new emotional realm unseen in his previous work, resulting in an LP that is both emotionally vulnerable and relatable — hopefully allowing a larger listener base to appreciate Blake’s now-romantic falsetto.

 

  • Artist: James Blake
  • Album: “Assume Form”
  • Label: Polydor Records
  • Favorite Tracks: ‘Into the Red’, ‘Tell Them’, ‘Barefoot in the Park’, ‘Can’t Believe the Way We Flow’, ‘I’ll Come Too’
  • If you like: Sampha, Jamie xx, Flying Lotus, Moses Sumney
  • Shamrocks: 4 out of 5
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