By Zach Hester
In the early hours of a random night in mid-January, I came across James Blake on Spotify. For quite some time, I really only knew him as someone who was frequently gushed about by one of my favorite YouTubers, Garrett Watts. As I saw that he was releasing a new record, I sat down to dive in to Blake’s discography. I wasn’t disappointed.
Despite a reputation as a “sad boy” musician, Assume Form, Blake’s fourth studio album, seems to breathe new life into not just the artist, but the man as well. The record can be summed up into three words: a vital sensation. It’s about the ease of life once you find that person or purpose that pushes you to get out of bed every day and just live to your fullest potential. In Blake’s own words, rising to this purpose is expressed in the title phrase “assume form.”
The album is a perfect, full mix of electronic beats and truly haunting acoustic sounds. While I haven’t had a ton of time with Blake’s earlier albums, Assume Form is noticeably more happy than his previous works.
The love themes of “Are You In Love?”, “Into The Red”, and “Can’t Believe The Way We Flow” are bright spots on the album. With the the latter two of those likely being about Blake’s longtime girlfriend, Jameela Jamil. Both seem so pure in nature and speak on their subject in a way that makes the listener believe that this person that they’re about could be Blake’s saving grace.
These themes are further explored more romantically and lyrically with songs like “Power On”, one of my favorites from the album. In this one, the narrator discusses overcoming their own ego to learn from this person that they love. It is songs like this that make it clear that the record is making a tonal shift from Blake’s last album, The Colour In Anything.
Blake’s style and sound blends perfectly with everyone he has chosen to collaborate with on the record. Trap and hip hop influences take center stage on the tracks, “Mile High”, “Tell Them”, and “Where’s The Catch?” with assists from Travis Scott, Moses Sumney, Andre 3000 and producer, Metro Boomin. It’s the very presence of these tracks on Assume Form that signal Blake’s full fusion of his original music and the songs that he has become known to produce.
“I will assume form, I’ll be out of my head this time” seems to be the record’s anthem. Blake says that he will “leave the ether”, which in his own words means, “to assume material form, to leave my head and join the world.” It plays into themes of being stuck inside your own mind more than participating in the daily motions of life itself.
In the early single, “Mile High”, James Blake and Travis Scott sing “when you’re alone with me, you never come up short.” After hearing this full album, I have to agree.
Best Tracks: Mile High, I’ll Come Too, Power On