Hey, welcome to the new year of 2019. I’m still writing album reviews here, and what better way to start the year than by writing about the new album from… James Blake? In case the name escapes you…
For those not in the know, James Blake is an English singer, songwriter and producer. He was involved in many projects in 2018, from the Black Panther soundtrack (“King’s Dead” and “Bloody Waters”) to Travis Scott’s latest record Astroworld, and even providing additional production for Oneohtrix Point Never’s recent album (and my 2nd favorite album of 2018) Age Of.
I admit that while I have never listened to any of his solo records, I’m aware he has worked with plenty of other artists (especially in the vein of hip-hop) such as Beyonce, Frank Ocean, and Jay-Z among others. Going into his 4th studio album, Assume Form, I learned that he has this ethereal and ambient sound in his music, whether it’s in his voice or through his production.
So, can we assume that Assume Form is worth listening to?
Apparently, most people weren’t feeling his previous two albums, but having coming into this with fresh ears, I will say that he does have a good ear for production, ranging from ambient and eerie atmospheres to its more hip-hop sounds. Speaking of that, while Blake obviously provides the production, he gets Metro Boomin’ on two tracks: “Mile High” (feat. Travis Scott) and “Tell Them” (feat. Moses Sumney). While the former track has been hyped around as a big single, I much preferred the latter as Moses Sumney made it sound better. As much as I may consider myself someone who likes Travis Scott’s work, his collaboration didn’t hit me that much along with the production being a bit weak, feeling like something that would’ve been on Astroworld.
I’m just going to get this out of the way now: of course, the track I love the most on here is the one featuring Andre 3000. Yes, he returns to make another guest verse on the track “Where’s the Catch,” and the production is where things really shine with its usage of piano, vocal effects, a scratchy guitar sound, hi-hats and vocal delivery.
Other tracks that I really grabbed onto are the opening title track, “Into the Red”, “Are You in Love?”, “Don’t Miss It,” & the closing track “Lullaby for My Insomniac.” All of them have this experimental yet ambient sound that I am definitely into, but with that style, I can sometimes forget about a song or two in there. To be fair, I don’t find any tracks to be bad, but there are ones I can gloss over, like “Barefoot in the Park” with Rosalía (it’s good, but I would listen to the other tracks I listed more). In my ears, “Lullaby for My Insomniac” has the best progression of any song with Blake’s choral vocalization being hauntingly excellent.
So, with that said, this album took some time to me to grasp what Blake can deliver, and I do see myself going back to his catalog. Assume Form isn’t a bad way to start with his solo work, as it’s very accessible to newcomers. A nice blend of ambient sounds, electropop vibes, and trap sounds, it’s very much worth looking into.
FINAL VERDICT: Stream It. It’s a damn good listen.
Assume Form is available on Polydor Records on CD, streaming, digital download and cassette (no, really, it’s on that format).