In the blink of an eye, James Blake’s desolate-electro r’n’b style has changed the world of electronic music and r’n’b , producing for the genres biggest names and finding himself in a position that no one would have predicted back in 2011. While a number of top r’n’b artists have risen to the rising trend laid out by Blake, others have failed or not quite met the mark. Now on Assume Form, the world that James Blake has crafted has fully circumnavigated its globe, finding itself at an uncomfortable point of “where to go next?”.
Released January 18th, 2019, Polydor.
Let it be known that James Blake has crafted a smooth r’n’b album, one which arguably will find James Blake leaving his “sad boy” moniker behind, an indoctrinated term which the Londoner has personal issues with, now releasing his most accessible album yet. Blake’s music has never been meant for fast paced electro lovers, rather being well suited for those deeply infatuated with the intricate finesse that is poured into every beat of a James Blake track. So Assume Form’s accessibility will come as a surprise to most long time listeners, isolating them from this new world.
The downbeat tempo of James Blake has met a new phase of uplifted lyrics influenced massively through modern r’n’b. Written almost solely for his girlfriend Jameela Jamil, the overall tone on Assume Form is one of further unfamiliarity for James Blake’s fans, as the Londoner appears happier than ever, partially willing to share this with us all.
Barefoot In The Park and Can’t Believe The Way We Flow in particular stands out as James Blake being undeniably happy. Featuring Spanish artist ROSALÍA, Barefoot In The Park’s wispy duet summons two worlds together, taking the influence of ROSALÍA’s intricate Spanish flourishes, mixing in Western Asian sounds for a love ballad of the Mediterranean.
The series of layered vocals and PS1 opening screen-esque sound on Can’t Believe The Way We Flow is another immediate, sit down and take notice moment, as the Londoner produces a weird, winter wonderland of trippy synths and mashed up samples that you’ll want to be caught up in for the rest of the year.
The happiness that James Blake exudes is far from what you would unmistakingly identify as happiness however. The outpour of emotion throughout Assume Form is strong and serious, only in the way that apparently makes sense for the Londoner to produce right now. The melancholy of his past is now lingering around as a trait no longer welcome, yet impossible to shake loose. Into The Red speaks openly of how Jamil has stood by Blake through his darkest moments, with his layered vocals almost trembling at the idea of someone being so helpful and selfless towards him. The mechanical edge of pianos and string elements creates a coldness, almost as if to remind us all that Blake still has issue with expressing happiness in a conventional manner.
Even though Blake is happier than ever, his struggle to truly show that, both lyrically and musically is still enough of a wall to keep people from truly seeing James Blake at his most vulnerable moment. Being completely caught up in love. While the remnants of Blake’s previous work has carried across in sound mostly, the impact has softened in mood, making for a confusing fourth album. A complete upbeat, chart ready production is far from what anyone wants from Blake, but if his moniker of “sad-boy music” is to disappear or at least be retitled in a less demeaning manner, Blake will need to allow the rest of the world in alongside his girlfriend and list of A-list musicians. Truly showing us what his happiness can be, without drenching it in his previous anxieties and depression, is the mission for Blake here; Assume Form is just a weird moment in time that will become the cornerstone to look back on in years to come.