James Blake sounds better than ever on his collaboration-infused Assume Form

Photo courtesy of GQ.

Photo courtesy of GQ.

An important factor that determines the longevity of an artist’s career is growth — not only as a musician, but as an artist. Throughout his career, James Blake has been able to capture the ears of his fans through his electronic dubstep sound that has made him stand out in a decade full of innovative artists. It is no surprise that since the release of his last album The Colour in Anything, Blake has collaborated with the likes of Beyoncé, Jay Z, Travis Scott, and Kendrick Lamar. The finished product of his latest work, Assume Form, is a well-produced and layered pop album that explores the vulnerability of Blake’s love life.

Throughout the album’s runtime, listeners will notice a change of lyrical direction that explores the emotions of Blake’s affection for his girlfriend. In one tweet, Blake made it very clear that his girlfriend, The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil, was the sole inspiration behind Assume Form’s existence. This is made evident through songs like “I’ll Come Too” and “Power On,” which explore the dynamics of a relationship while simultaneously including very memorable vocal melodies. All the songs on the album showcase Blake’s talent for lyrics, and there is a noticeable increase of personal emotion in the language of each song, separating them from previous albums.

A major reason why the album sounds so cohesive is the production. Blake does a fantastic job with fellow producer Dominic Baker in creating a lush sound that is persistent throughout the entire album. Assume Form’s production has endless layers of beats and sound effects that may not be entirely heard on first listens. Fans of Blake’s previous work will find an easy time listening to his new hip-hop-inspired beats that also have elements of R&B and electronic music, elements that offer different perspectives for each subsequent listen. The album also sees guest producer Metro Boomin on the tracks “Mile High” and “Tell Them,” appearing near the beginning and successfully setting the tone for the following songs.

Another thing this album offers is a variety of guest appearances. Artists Travis Scott, Moses Sumney, ROSALÍA, and André 3000 are able to enhance the change of artistic direction Blake chose for the album. André 3000’s rap on the track “Where’s the Catch?” is a standout moment on the entire record, thanks to the fantastic rap verse and beat provided by Metro Boomin. Blake is able to use his abilities as an electronic producer to effortlessly transition to the world of rap as seen by Scott’s feature on the song “Mile High,” which includes simple, but effective production that complements Scott’s verses on the track. With the help of Metro Boomin, “Mile High” is the standout single on the entire album. As a result of these hip-hop features and influences, the album has a very upbeat sound that is in stark contrast with previous efforts by Blake, tending to have a very melancholic sound.

Although Assume Form does have a more upbeat sound than its predecessors, fans will not be alienated, thanks to Blake’s calm vocal performances. Another standout moment on the record is Blake’s duet with ROSALÍA; their combined voices complement one another, creating a beautiful love ballad. Another benefit that Blake’s new artistic approach allows for is the singer’s soothing vocals that are delightfully calm and dreamy. Blake’s voice has never sounded so good.

The album’s closing track, “Lullaby for My Insomniac,” is a classic Blake track. It is the eeriest sounding song on the album and it stands out from the rest of the track listing while still retaining an affectionate performance by Blake. It’s a fantastic finish to a vulnerable album.

Blake is able to find an incredible balance of different genres to fuse together into an album that already feels like a highlight of 2019. Since the release of his debut album, Blake has successfully expanded his sound. With the help of his contemporaries, Blake has become a memorable artist and on his new effort, he is able to go beyond his previous work.

ArtsMiguel ModestoComment