Album: Assume Form
Artist: James Blake
Genre: Indie/Electronic with some hip hop mixed in for good measure
Label: Polydor Ltd.
Non-Airable Tracks: None (although some occasional bad-ish words will come up in tracks 2 and 10)
I can’t seem to stop loving this album with my entire being. I’ve been around for James Blake since his “Wilhelm Scream” days, with an affinity for his shaky and echoey voice. There is something so haunting but equally spectacular about his eerie vocals mixed with a lazy drum beat. The sound stands as a style marker to any James Blake song out there. Many times, I imagine that instead of the studio, James Blake went into a cave, stood above a puddle, and sang his heart out. However, Assume Form seems different. And the difference seems important, as it indicates some serious growth for the artist, both musically and lyrically.
Some key features on Assume Form are Metro Boomin, Travis Scott, and Andre 3000. Blake’s honest vocals and authentic lyrics, mixed with the beats and familiarity of these big names in hip hop, makes for an album that evokes professional effortlessness. Further, one of my favorite singers, Moses Summney, is featured on the third track of the album (“Tell Them”). Summney and Blake have extremely similar vocal styles, so I am absolutely entranced by every song these two make together. “Tell Them” feels sassy, artistically articulate, and expertly layered.
The second track, “Mile High,” will surely be the star of this album, as it meshes Blake’s signature style with a taste of today’s hip-hop pretty seamlessly. It definitely felt like an experiment that worked. “Into the Red” seems to be a very confessional song, with some pretty vague lyrics about a lover who sacrifices a lot for the speaker (presumably Blake). His crisp and drone-y vocals are layered over the strange cadence that sounds like a broken mobile or music box. It is chill-inducing.
“Power On” was also one of my favorites on the album. Although the song was a tad whiny at points, this was validated considering the content. Essentially, Blake gives us a list of all the things he once thought, and how he was incorrect about these things, but nonetheless he’d “power on.” I enjoyed the driving rhythm and ultimately uplifting ending with the words “power on” repeating just enough in different schemes until you’re sufficiently sick of them.
“Don’t Miss It” is probably the most melancholy song on the album about taking a loved one or a friend for granted (“You’re with your friend / When you get to hang out with your favourite person every day / When the dull pain goes away / Don’t miss it (Don’t miss it) / When you stop being a ghost in a shell / And everybody keeps saying you look well / Don’t miss it / Like I did”). The weird operatic dissonance behind the sad piano literally is trying to scream, JAMES BLAKE!! Even with the strange background elements, I thought this song really showcases Blake’s vocal and production abilities. The song’s vocals turns into a skipping or fast-forwarded CD and it makes me a bit uncomfortable but in an interesting way. I loved this track.
Overall, I thought the album was really a testament to Blake’s growth as an artist. His collaborations were smooth and succeeded in gripping my attention. There are clear thematic elements and the story behind Assume Form is one that I think many people may be able to relate to, from different perspectives. I am looking forward to listening to this album on repeat for the next month.
Sounds Like: Sampha, Moses Summney, King Krule
2. Mile High (feat. Metro Boomin and Travis Scott)
3. Tell Them (feat. Moses Summney and Metro Boomin)
10. Power On
11. Don’t Miss It
Reviewer’s Name: Arielle Devorah
Date of Review: 2 February 2019