Release Date: Jan 18, 2019
Record label: !K7
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic
The first five-star album of 2019! Proof that James Blake is one of the world's greatest producers, this loved-up fourth record, featuring Andre 3000 and Travis Scott, sees him finally in control as a brilliant songwriter and emotive lyricist James Blake has always been far more than the 'sad boy' he's so often pinned as. Whether it's cracking jokes on stage, inviting Stephen Merchant onto his Radio 1 Residency to play the part of the fictitious DJ Badger, or churning out fiver-on-the-door, techno-heavy club nights with his 1800-Dinosaur collective, his temperament has often been tangential to his lovelorn music. That is, until 'The Colour In Anything'.
The Lowdown: James Blake's career is the story of percussion giving way to melody. The onetime dubstep DJ first gained notice for his kinetic drums and wildly fractured rhythms. But even as dubstep was peaking, Blake was moving on. His debut album, 2011's James Blake, showcased a new attention to hookmaking.
I pull up, hop out, air out, made it look sexy James Blake's music has always pointed toward a lesson hard-earned, with the cold, intricate sculptures to match: feelings left unsaid, desires left unmatched, matches left un-swiped. Coming at the turn of a decade about ready to forcibly recede the maximalist pop of its yesteryear into bent shapes and silhouettes, 2011's self-titled post-dubstep artifact felt as much of its time as history has since revealed it to be fashionably out of step, drawing upon its own insular whirring clockwork to serve as Blake's calling card (not for nothing did Drake display the artwork in-studio as his own Take Care took shape for a late fall release) just as its form evoked the tender, pointed personality at its helm. Considered in hindsight, a scrupulous, expansive, and adoring audience might have been ill-suited for the particulars that made that album a rightful classic, its long-player narrative interpolating pop songwriting as a language to communicate implacable insights, simple as they were: "Beacon don't fly too high" goes one warbly, prescient refrain, and so an audience seized upon the sound as some new scripture, its bashful prodigy borne into expectations too big to carry.
At the beginning of his fourth album, Assume Form, James Blake finds himself at a mental crossroads. It's a pretty song, made from blossoming piano lines, tender drums and strings, but his mind is in conflict. "I will be touchable by her, I will be reachable," he decides. But then: "When you touch me, I wonder what you could want with me." Blake drops in a sample, used just once and lowered in pitch, of the poet Rage Almighty.
James Blake is an odd product of his time. A songwriter and producer who started his career in the nebulous post-dubstep genre, he has spent the last few years at the heart of the American rap and R&B scenes in a way that would been completely implausible for his forebears. He can work with Oneohtrix Point Never and Jay-Z simultaneously, nobody batting an eyelid, and while such versatility runs the risk of leaving an artist faceless (as was the case with Hudson Mohawke) Blake uses the creative freedom to his advantage throughout Assume Form, his fourth record and his most diverse.
James Blake's album covers say a lot about his progression as an artist. On his 2011 debut, his face was shrouded and blurred. Follow-up 'Overgrown' was clearer, but saw him standing in the distance in a sparse, snowy landscape. Third effort, 2016's 'The Colour In Anything', meanwhile, featured a signature illustration from his namesake, illustrator Quentin.
Assume Form is bound to be known as James Blake's love album, but these aren't ballads meant to fill wedding party playlists. While they could be co-opted in such a fashion, these are less "love songs" and more "James Blake's love songs." Ever since his self-titled debut made him a star as both a vocalist and a producer nearly eight years ago, Blake has permanently seemed on the cusp of going for full-on pop stardom, but he's been able to maintain intrigue and integrity in his sound. Blake has been revealing himself more, but he's still got plenty of layers on.
From the beginning of James Blake 's career it was clear that his voice was one to take notice of: yet it was always hidden. Warped effects and production trickery masked his words. Blake was using his ear for melody to tell the story, rather than the words themselves. Assume Form is a statement of Blake's self belief.
Remember when they called James Blake a 'sad boy'? Well, you could pretty much say that this is his sonic response to that taunt. Although not exactly an album brimming with feel-good anthems, Assume Form does see the London master of glitchy ambience return with a collection of tunes that drip in romance, hopefulness and what seems to be a generally brighter outlook on life. But then, love can do that.
James Blake's arrival in the early 2010s was exciting, in no small part because no one sounded quite like him. His collision of ghostly, dubstep-informed production and quiveringly sad piano balladry should have been jarring and awkward, but it worked so well it catapulted Blake into near-iconic status. His cold and aching mumble became something of a genre unto itself, and his personal fingerprints began appearing on albums by experimental electronic artists, indie acts, and stadium-level stars like Beyoncé and Kanye West.
On Assume Form, James Blake's long-awaited fourth album, the London-born singer/producer displays just how much he has changed, some would say progressed, since the dark majesty of his self-titled debut back in 2011. Through myriad collaborations with Bon Iver, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Kendrick Lamar, as well a series of increasingly maudlin solo offerings, Blake has firmed up a place as an artist always on the precipice of the big time— talented enough to rub mixes with the big players yet perhaps weighted by the often hauntingly cast bedroom sadness of his own output. As an electronic producer and songwriter Blake shows some prowess here; the melodically complex, particularly delicate, and brilliantly humane ("She watched me lose face every day/Rather than lose me" intones Blake's feint falsetto over a heartstring-jamming piano loop) "Into the Red" is an early highlight.
Rating: NNNN Can we finally let James Blake be happy? The internet's favourite sad boy has been plagued by a one-dimensional image since releasing his self-titled album in 2011. Although James Blake, the person, is more than his melancholy, he's often painted as irreparably sad. His fan base clings to him as an artist whose music leaves them gutted but reassured that someone else feels the same kind of pain.
I t feels strange now to recall a time when James Blake's elevation from underground post-dubstep auteur to hotly-tipped mainstream artist seemed like the result of a clerical error. It was hard not to be impressed by his eponymous 2011 debut album, but it was equally hard not to wonder whether this really was the stuff of which silver medals in the BBC Sound of … poll and spots on the Radio 1 A-list were made. If you listened to its sparse, abstract, deeply uncommercial assemblages of treated vocals, electronics and piano, there was something very odd indeed about his name being mentioned in the same breath as Jessie J.
Assume Form by James Blake: love songs from the cold. (Polydor) Hushed, expressive vocal performances have become increasingly key to James Blake’s art, just as his signature sound, his cold, sculptural minimalism, has become rote in the time of Drake. Assume Form, despite the handsome ghost-of-a-smile on the LP sleeve, doesn’t introduce a more colorful palette for Blake.
A flourish of lounge piano marks the arrival of 'Assume Form', the fourth full length from electronic minimalist James Blake. Like his contemporary Jamie xx, Blake has garnered praise for his sparse, haunting soundscapes, stripping each track back to its bare bones. Yet, the flipside of such subtlety is that, initially, there doesn't seem much to grab hold of.
I t's not hard to see why someone might fall in love with Jameela Jamil - the star around which James Blake's fourth album, Assume Form, orbits. The character Jamil plays on NBC's The Good Place gets called things like "sexy skyscraper" (and "sexy giraffe", and "a hot rich fraud with legs for days"). Jamil's penthouse suite is well furnished too. The British radio DJ turned screenwriter turned actor recently made a documentary for Radio 4 about sexual consent.