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Album review: James Blake refines sound in “Assume Form”

James Blake did not want fans to miss it. But he wanted them to wait.

More than two years after the release of his album “The Colour in Anything,” the British singer released the single “Don’t Miss It” in June, accompanied by a video of someone typing out the lyrics to the song in separate text messages. The single seemed to match the tone of the previous album, matching the lyrics of depression and self-involved anxiety to a beat mastered by Blake, who has become one of the most sought-after producers since his debut in 2011, working with artists like Kanye West and Beyonce.

But when “Don’t Miss It” eventually capped off “Assume Form,” Blake’s fourth record which was released Friday, it seemed more of a song of reminiscence. In its entirety, the British producer, bringing in more features and help than he’s ever had, brings this sense of love, personal growth and contentment to this record, something fans have not seen.

And for most of the record, this works very well. On “Assume Form,” Blake creates an accessibility, a focus on the lyrics and the songwriting — along with the familiar soaring tenor of Blake. He does this instead of using his production and minimalist electronic influences to hide behind, something that brought him to worldwide prominence.

This is seen in a big way in “Can’t Believe The Way We Flow.” With lyrics like “you are my fear of death” and “you wave my fear of self” in the bridge, Blake sings with a power that has really not been seen in his other projects, building in intensity with consistent swelling and not holding back. Blake calls this a “pure love song,” according to an interview he did with iTunes, and is about what he refers to as the ease of coexisting with his girlfriend, Jameela Jamil.

However, when Blake has help, he creates some of the best songs on the record.

Flamenco singer Rosalia, who released the critically-acclaimed “El Mal Querer” in 2018, shines in “Barefoot in The Park,” gives a vocal performance that blends very well with Blake.

Andre 3000, one half of the rap-duo Outkast, provides one of the most memorable moments on the album, rapping “Exorcism, pessimism has arisen There’s no reason, really treason to myself, so silly So perfect, so perfect, so why do I look for curtains?” In his first guest appearance since 2017, 3000 shows his vulnerable side, opening up more about depression and anxiety that Blake has written about before, bringing together a perfect combination.

However, not all of the features seem to work as well.

Working previously with him on his 2018 release “Astroworld” on the song “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD,” Travis Scott shows up on “Mile High,” a song that showcases the auto-tuned singing ability of the Houston native behind the beat concocted with the help of Metro Boomin.

Like in previous collaborations with rappers, like Vince Staples and Chance the Rapper, Blake seems to take a back seat, leading to one of the more poppy and trap music-like songs on the record. It works at points, but the repetitiveness makes it feel more radio-friendly than I’m used to Blake being.

Blake’s song with singer-songwriter Moses Sumney, the second song that features Metro Boomin, was very unexpected, but brings one of the most memorable beats on the album.

But Blake could not stray too far away from what he is known for.

The title track “Assume Form,” much like the penultimate song “Don’t Miss It,” brings back the lyrics that address his depressive state, but with a lyric of hope, saying he will become “touchable” and “reachable” behind the piano and electronic mix that people have come to find familiar to Blake.

“Assume Form” as a whole represents progress for Blake, moving forward and finding peace and love. And with that comes new sounds and approaches, while remaining in the British house genre that he has grown accustomed to.

 

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