James Blake has a way of going beyond the senses, creating not just a soundscape, but a pathos that is astoundingly hard to put into words. He floats between what can be heard and what can be felt in a way that very few musicians can. His newest offering, Assume Form, does just as it says. This album is not privy to the emotional impulses of James’s consciousness. It was not written purely of his expression or to meet his fans in the sea of emotion that is so hard to articulate and navigate. It is written for someone to understand and to begin a conversation. He wrote a love letter instead of his normal journal entry and it comes across as his most accessible and clear cut work to date.
Blake’s Past Work
For ten years, James Blake has been at the forefront of experimental pop music, blending an amalgamation of genres that would take too long to list. His musical thoughts and textures are incredibly unique. He has found a trademark sound defined by sparse, yet rich instrumentation that he continually pushes boundaries with. On his last full length release, The Colour in Anything, his approach was more fragmented and yearning. He seemed to be calling out for help, or attention, or to feel heard. In the back half of the tracklisting, he finds what he is looking for. So what does an artist do when he finally captures what he’s been chasing?
As opposed to an ending, his achievement starts him on a new journey. This is evident on “Meet You in the Maze”, the final cut of The Colour in Anything. James delves into discovering happiness in himself, finding solace in the maze of his mind and its intersections with reality. There is nothing more comforting than finding someone to take that journey of self discovery with you and we watch that process of exploration and teamwork unfold on Assume Form.
A New Journey
On the title track, he makes his intentions explicit: “I will assume form, I’ll be out of my head this time/I will be touchable by her, I will be reachable.” This is an audacious goal for someone often lost in clouds. I think he succeeds in this regard. His characteristically sparse and glitchy production is as strong as it’s ever been on Assume Form. But everything about this LP, from the song structure, to the lyrics, to the passion behind his words, seems decrypted. Hitting that target of accessibility is never easy but in doing so, did James give up some of the uniqueness in his sound?
Personally, I think he did. This album is very solid all the way through and he does have some tracks that push sonic and topical boundaries, e.g., “Tell Them”, “Barefoot in the Park”, “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow”, “Where’s the Catch?”, and “Don’t Miss It”. His features, other than Travis Scott, all lived up to their potential; Rosalía‘s performance on “Barefoot in the Park” is particularly memorable. But for the most part, Assume Form does not give as much to sink one’s teeth into relative to his previous releases. I have found a lot of replay-ability in the track, “Are You in Love?”, and “I’ll Come Too” but not the same complexity I am used to in his music.
I am curious to see if this idea changes for me over time but as it stands, this is Mr. Blake’s most consistent project and also his safest. Unfortunately, he set the bar quite high for himself with his previous work. I do not see Assume Form as a misstep by any means, with some amazing songs mixed in the tracklist. But with that said, I hope to see a return to more abstract thoughts and sounds in his next effort.