James Blake - Assume Form - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

James Blake - Assume Form

by Tim Sentz Rating:8 Release Date:2019-01-18
James Blake - Assume Form
James Blake - Assume Form

I was never a fan of James Blake. His glitchy falsetto was an instant turn off for me way back in 2010 when his dual EPs were being hyped. His first LP, the self-titled 2011 critical darling, had a few cuts that I’d return to here and there, but it wasn’t until last year that I started to appreciate some of his more accessible aspects, and soon Overgrown became my favorite of his discography.

With the “surprise” release of Assume Form, Blake steps out from behind the auto-tune and the fractured vocals to deliver his most direct album yet. And naturally, I think it’s his best work. It’ll no doubt be his most polarizing work. Die-hard Blake fans will want him to stay in that experimental pop area, but he’s always had a penchant for collaboration – especially within the hip-hop world. With Assume Form he boosts the ante with some stellar guest spots from Moses Sumney, 2018’s breakout Latin American singer Rosalía, and of course André 3000.

The title tracks simple but elegant piano intro, followed by Blake’s unfiltered vocals are a nice touch and set up Assume Form’s intent right from the get-go. This will not be like The Colour of Anything or Overgrown. If anything, Assume Form is Blake having some fun and just writing how he feels without submerging it in thick layers of electronica or vocoding. Here, it’s all Blake, which is a comforting change of pace for those of us who found his splintered yelps a tad bit grating before. “Tell Them” is a riveting collaboration between Moses Sumney, producer Metro Boomin, and Blake, all merging together. Rosalía shimmers on “Barefoot in the Park” and is instantly the album’s most rewarding track. But even when Blake’s running solo, like on “Into the Red,” he may come off sappy but he’s still showing a barebones version of himself, which is a nice touch.

Assume Form might be the crossover record Blake needed to get to the mainstream, and there will be plenty of detractors who yearn for his early days of experimental auto-tuned space, but for those eager for something lighter, Assume Form answers that call. Not every track is a home run though, “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow” is a bit meandering, and Travis Scott’s trap-infused “Mile High” could have been dialed back (or completely omitted), but all of this is made up for with “Where’s the Catch?” the latest André 3000 appearance after 2017’s spot on the instantly forgettable N.E.R.D. album No One Ever Really Dies. Here, André raps feel refreshing and not bogged down by overproduction.

James Blake has been a tough sell to the broader pop world, but he’s managed to craft an inviting record that is far removed from his previous work while keeping a lot of it intact. Polishing his vocal delivery helps, but it’s no doubt going to piss a lot of his fans off. Let them be pissed, Assume Form is the album Blake was meant to make.

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