Mesmerising. Captivating. Groundbreaking.
These are the three words that come to mind when I think of Assume Form. From start to finish this album is a joy to divulge in, easily being the most palatable and accessible of Blake’s work without ever losing his signature touch. A bold step in a new direction for the singer/producer, a risk that pays off in so many ways, paving a name for himself as perhaps one of the most equipped and talented artists in the business right now.
Blake has been on the map for quite some time now, from humble beginnings as a dubstep dj/producer to now being a respected figure amongst many high profile artists (Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar to name a few). His self-titled debut is the perfect blend of electronica and dark-synth rnb, his sophomore effort Overgrown produced his most soulful effort to date. Overgrown was not as intricate as his debut in it’s production, yet the heart and overall atmosphere is what makes it most impressive. His third album, The Colour in Anything was a step away from the rnb sounds of the past and was a much more expansive and at times bloated experience. TCIA was a long album, and whilst there were many highlights in its bass and synth loaded moments, too many filler tracks did weaken it’s impact. Now, almost three years later Assume Form builds upon the sounds of all three past works, creating a much more tighter, crisper and overall easier to listen LP than anything James has made prior. In short, Assume Form is Blakes’ finest work to date.
From the opening moments of title track Assume Form’s stunning piano chords, Blake’s breathtaking voice takes control, “Now I’m confidin. Know I’m a haze. Gone through the motions my whole life. I hope this is the first day”. Blake makes full contact and will motion you through his anxieties, complexities and intricate thoughts for the next 40 minutes. His production so much sleeker and accessible than ever before, yet not once do you doubt that this is a James Blake record. Synths roll and wave throughout and it is intoxicating at the least.
Following Assume Form are tracks Mile High and Tell Them both featuring rapper Metro Boomin, a clear indicator in the partnerships Blake has been able to make over the past few years with his production efforts. In both tracks, bass thumps, hi hats and snares snap hard and Blake’s vocals compliment the flow work of Metro poetically. Tell Them being perhaps one of Blake’s most lively tracks, yet an atmospheric and gorgeously chimed track that will be on the playlist for a long time.
“Assume Form builds upon the sounds of all three past works, creating a much more tighter, crisper and overall easier to listen LP than anything James has made prior.”
Of course these features are impressive, yet it makes Blake’s solo moments in Assume Form all the more impressive. Songs like Into The Red, Can’t Believe The Way We Flow and Are You In Love (the synth and key work in this track is so elegantly simple), expanding upon the sounds of past Blake, showing a much more mature and grounded producer. Into The Red is textbook lyricism from Blake, “she watched me lose face everyday, rather than lose me”, he remains as intimate as ever. This song is only made more emotional through his sweeping vocals that hit heights that are truly breathtaking when backdropped against the stunning synths and chimes of what appears to be a mandolin.
Can’t Believe The Way we flow is similar in execution, where moments of production flow so well against Blake’s vocals that you simply cannot do anything other than appreciate an artist so in tune with his abilities. The constant loop of “Can’t believe the way we flow” edited and sampled provides a touch of character, and the gushing bassline that pulsates throughout handles a real stand out track.
Barefoot in the park makes incredible use of ROSALIA’s smooth vocals, the glock tones and xylophone chords in the background contrasting brilliantly against both set of vocals to make an almost latin-esque feel. As stunning as this track is, it is overshadowed in my opinion by Andre 3000’s feature in Where’s The Catch. The piano loop over a hard hitting bass seems simple enough, yet Dre’s flow is simply irresistible. Couple in a few hi-hats and you have yourself an absolute dream of a teamup in Blake and Andre.
The backend of Assume Form doesn’t hold back, continuing the clean production and intimate moments seen from the start. I’ll Come Too perhaps being some of Blake’s most impressive vocal work on the LP, with his production taking a much more low-key approach in doing so. Power On follows, and is easily one of the most impressive deep cuts of Blake’s deep cuts. Blake wears his heart on his sleeve in this track, admitting “I thought sex was at my pace, but I was wrong. Power on:”. Once again allowing us as listeners into a glimpse of his insecurities and thought process. The grimy synth notes over a soothing woodwind and bass make for a very well put together piece.
Continuing from Power On’s form, we have the lead single in Don’t Miss it. Not much can be more said about this single, other than how it was the first taste of Assume Form, and how it was a great choice too. It shows the development of production in Blake’s work, yet maintaining his jarring piano chords and haunting vocal samples that he is loved for. All this culminating into a loud and unnerving finale of electronic sounds, an ode to the past with a nod to the future, much like the album.
And I believe that’s what Blake wanted this effort to be; a showcase of what he has learnt over his many years in the game. Maintaining the sound he is loved for, all the while developing his love for rnb with some incredible features. Don’t be fooled by the features, this is still a James Blake album with stunning piano riffs and uncomfortable moments of electronic layers, yet it is easily his most accessible. Which for myself, is impressive in so many ways because it shows the growth and waves he is making in the music world. His sound is so much more refined than ever before and it is so awesome to finally hear it fully fleshed out. Assume Form is incredible from start to finish, I have and will have it on repeat for quite some time, and that’s due to all the complexities in all aspects of this record.
Assume Form is what more producers should strive for in their work, to honour the past whilst creating sounds of the future. And Blake does this so effortlessly and beautifully, it has not only established him as one of the finest producers in the music industry right now, but perhaps of this generation. 5/5