James Blake: Assume Form (Republic) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

James Blake

Assume Form

Republic

Jan 23, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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 timetalented 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.   

Rosalía-starring "Barefoot In the Park" may begin in standard ambient fashion but once the warm, sweet, Spanish-language vocals of his esteemed guest begin we roll into an ingeniously progressive, unconventional ballad duet.

Other guest such as André 3000 on "Where's the Catch?"a classic Blake beathymn-and Travis Scott and Metro Boomin on trap anthem "Mile High," add a more energized and forward-moving feel to Blake's traditionally static, iceberg-shifting tunes. Here Blake is upping not only the tempo (just once in a while, don't panic, indie-kid), but also the overall tone.

On "Power On" Blake learns some vital survival lessons and is happy to share: "I thought I might be better dead but I was wrong/I thought everything could fade but I was wrong" he mumbles, voice cracking. Later as a sublime soul-vocal break leads into an absolutely correct '80s bass melody you realize you're in the midst of the finest stretch of the record.

Other tracks including the overlong, vaguely atonal title track and (Italian film music composer) Bruno Nicolai co-write "I'll Come Too" feel less than inspiredparticularly when confronted by the bland vocalizing of the latter.

Assume Form is surely a shift toward a more optimistic Blake, but occasionally at the cost of song quality and his expected moments of spicy originality. It's a good, sometimes excellent, yet quite uneven record. (www.jamesblakemusic.com)

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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