British artist James Blake is back at it again, having recently released his newest album, Assume Form, just this past January. Complete with rhythmically infectious backing tracks, the beats that characterize Blake as a down-tempo artist are ever-present, catchy in how they are effortlessly compelling and delightful in an uncomplicated sort of way. In fact, everything about Assume Form is uncomplicated. It’s raw and emotional, as Blake’s work so often is, but differs from the majority of his other pieces in its romantic quality. Different, too, are the appearances by artists Travis Scott, Rosalía, Moses Sumney, producer Metro Boomin, and André 3000.
I enjoyed Blake’s collaboration with Travis Scott and Metro Boomin on the imaginative “Mile High” because not only was the result commendatory, but the idea of Travis Scott coming in to record “this really vulnerable, sweet love song,” as Blake said, is a little amusing to me. Another noteworthy track is “Tell Them,” which features both Metro Boomin and Moses Sumney. This euphoniously natural and tasteful rendition of Blake’s gorgeously poetic piece had me keen to hear more. In “Where’s the Catch?” Blake and André 3000 sing and rap along to a wonderfully upbeat tempo about someone who is weary and dubious of how good things are between him and his significant other because of past experiences. This idea is clearest when André says, “There’s no reason really, [it’s] treason to myself … A burden in beautiful time, ” which is of great similarity to many of Blake’s previous works, except, unlike before, he is now able to comprehend how this dubiousness of good things is just a self-imposed encumbrance. He has matured.
Throughout the album there is one recurring theme: Blake has been hurt before, something made apparent in his previous works as well, but has now met someone who he feels he has “nothing to lose with” and who is helping him to be happier. With a twinkling beat that so greatly reminds me of someone playing one of those miniature toy pianos and an overall joyous time; he sings that to him this girl is like “the Gold Rush,” a time of great hope and prosperity in United States history, in a beautifully dulcet way. Out of all the songs in Assume Form, this is by far Blake’s best tribute to this woman and, as he said, is really “just a beautiful sentiment.”
Many of the album’s tracks feature a self-choir, which only adds to the haunting beauty that is Blake’s voice. Characterized as a “sad boy” for much of his career, Blake is now rejecting that label and refuses to let it define his music.
In an interview with Dazed, he shared his feelings of repudiation for the term when he said, “on this record, I’m just talking about how I feel now, and I will continue to write about how I feel, or sometimes I won’t talk about how I feel, but I’ll … choose when I do and when I don’t- without feeling like because I’m a man I shouldn’t do that.” This ability to expose such a raw, truthful, and emotional part of himself is so uncommon of men in the music industry and sets Blake apart from his peers.
The entire album, Assume Form, further proves that Blake has undoubtedly “[avoided] wasting [his] life,” as sung by Blake in “Don’t Miss It.” Beneath the upbeat tempos, when stripped for what it is, Assume Form is an unabashed reflection of the human soul, coming to terms with happiness from darkness.