After releasing a pair of tracks last year, as well as a few guest appearances, early 2019 sees the release James Blake’s fourth full length album, Assume Form.
James Blake is a London born singer/songwriter, whose attempts at fusing his unique brand of soul with elements of UK electronic music have landed him an abundance of critical acclaim, including the 2013 Mercury Prize for his sophomore album Overgrown. As such, Blake has received international recognition- particularly in the realms of hip-hop, collaborating with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper and Wu Tang Clan’s RZA.
This trend continues on Assume Form, as Mile High, a song featuring rap trailblazer Travis Scott and esteemed trap producer Metro Boomin, appears second in the track listing, after the record’s twinkly, curtain-raising title track. By name value alone, this track promises a great deal, and this promise is kept as the three marry together magnificently: Travis Scott adopts a guise any fan of his would be familiar with- flowing much like he would on the sort of down-tempo deeper cuts you’d hear from his own records, whilst Metro Boomin matches Blake’s typically gloomy, atmospheric palette with an understated drum pattern. The subsequent track, on what is Blake’s most feature-heavy record, recruits Californian artist Moses Sumney, as Metro retains his post as producer. Here, the latter is given more freedom to deliver a more energised instrumental, as Sumney’s baroque flavoured melodies skip across Boomin’s claps and snares.
Lyrically, the vast majority of this album is dedicated to James Blake’s relationship with British actress/model/TV presenter Jameela Jamil, as Blake took to social media to credit her as “the reason this album exists”. Into the Red is an ode of gratitude for the financial sacrifices his partner has made, whilst Can’t Believe The Way We Flow is a track that highlights his joy of simply sharing Jamil’s company. Blake’s enamourment is so strong, that he even questions whether it is too good to be true: Where’s The Catch?’s title is rather self-explanatory, as rap legend André 3000 deems Blake worthy of a rare guest appearance- his lyricism and vocal dexterity as sharp as ever.
Assume Form reaches an emotional climax with its penultimate track, a song that was shared almost 8 months prior to the release of the full album. Despite being hailed by a plethora of critics for the music he has made, admirers have also quipped Blake’s established niche as “sad boy music”. Don’t Miss It renders this sentiment not only reductive, but downright insulting, as Blake illustrates a man held captive by anxiety and depression with formidable openness. Optimism penetrates through this song, however, as Blake narrates in the past tense, denoting his present clarity. He offers a simple, yet profound piece of advice for any listener in sight of the light at the end of the tunnel: “Don’t miss it, like I did”.
With its star-studded lineup, one could suggest that this is James Blake’s most trendy release to date, and I’d struggle to disagree. This isn’t where Assume Form finds its strength, mind, as this record is also his most personal, without a shadow of a doubt. As much as Blake has been the subject of adulation from music critics, perhaps this is the record where it matters least, for when it comes to absolving personal demons, few victories are as precious.