James Blake continues to break the barriers of genre and discover new sound with his latest album “Assume Form,” which could potentially become Blake’s long-awaited big break into the mainstream.
Blake is an English singer-songwriter who’s most well-known for his experimental blends of soul and electronic music. Blake has previously released three albums, his self-titled debut in 2011, “Overgrown” in 2013 and “The Colour in Anything” in 2016, all of which received critical acclaim.
“Assume Form” marks Blake’s fourth studio album and his first project in over two and a half years. Since his last project, Blake has collaborated with a number of popular hip-hop and R&B artists. In 2016, he was featured on Beyonce’s album “Lemonade,” Travis Scott’s “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” and Frank Ocean’s visual album “Endless.”
In 2017, he was featured on Jay-Z’s album “4:44.” In 2018, he was featured on Travis Scott’s “Astroworld” and the “Black Panther” soundtrack, appearing on the track “King’s Dead” alongside rappers Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and Future.
The first aspect of Blake’s music that normally draws listeners in is his unique production. Blake tends to blend elements of electronic production with gentle, beautiful instrumentation, leading to quite the pleasing listening experience. “Assume Form” is no different. This is apparent right from the start with the opening track of the same name.
“Assume Form” begins with a flourishing piano riff, joined by an electronic drum beat and a series of strange blips and beeps. As if the pairing of sounds couldn’t get any stranger, orchestral strings are brought into the mix, followed by electronically altered voices that function as backup vocals. The blend is strange and would normally fail if done by any other artist, but Blake manages to pull it off with beautiful results throughout the entire album.
Blake notably attempts to appeal to contemporary pop music listeners by recruiting hip-hop producer Metro Boomin, who is credited on the tracks “Mile High” and “Tell Them.” It’s obvious that Blake is trying to step out of his comfort zone while also staying true to himself, which pays off very well, especially on the fast driving “Tell Them.” Those familiar with both Blake’s and Metro’s work can easily identify the influences from each artist, coming together to form an astounding musical product.
Blake’s production is always supported by his strong vocals, as is the case on this album as well. The track “Into the Red” begins with a violin melody backing Blake’s somber vocals, followed by auto-tune. As the song progressively intensifies, Blake’s main vocals are joined by other renditions of his voice. One is shrieking a high note while another shouts in the background, sounding like a full chorus of multiple Blakes, each with their own individuality. He repeats this effect on the track “Power On,” albeit to a much friendlier and gentler tone.
Blake displays emotional vocal talent on the electronic ballad “Are You in Love?” Here, Blake shows tremendous passion and puts his range to the test, ultimately resulting in one of the saddest tracks on the album. He also showcases the haunting vocals that he is most well-known for, especially on the album’s eerie concluding track, “Lullaby for My Insomniac.”
“Assume Form” features a number of guest artists, something that is rather unusual for a Blake record. “Mile High” features vocals from Travis Scott, while the following track “Tell Them” features vocals from soul-singer Moses Sumney. “Where’s the Catch?” is highlighted by a surprising rap verse from the legendary Andre 3000.
The track “Barefoot in the Park” features vocals from Spanish singer Rosalia, who sings in her native language. The variety of artists featured on the project will surely help Blake reach to new audiences and demographics, potentially leading to an increase in his popularity.
The album’s standout track, however, is the single “Don’t Miss It.” This soft piano ballad is by far the most emotional, thought-provoking track on the entire album. Simple piano chords and haunting background vocals back up Blake’s lyrics on how much easier life would be if you could turn off your emotions and detach yourself from society but how empty your life would be.
These feelings of sadness, anger and frustration are what remind us that we are still human. Although it may feel unfair how difficult life can get, these hardships are what make us stronger and prepared for the next obstacle.
Blake continues to find his footing on new ground on his appropriately named project “Assume Form.” With his unique blends of genres and interesting mixes of electronic production and classical instrumentation, he can make his music assume the form of any type of song he wishes to make.
This album proves that the possibilities are endless, and Blake will continue to trail blaze the electronic music scene.