James Blake, the legendary English producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist is back with his fourth full-length record after much anticipation since his last LP, “The Colour of Anything,” in 2016.
Most people have probably heard Blake in some way or another.
Whether that be from his original EPs in 2009 and 2010, his highly praised debut self-titled record, featured on the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott and Bon Iver, or if you have heard his production, and never realized it, on records from Jay-Z (“4:44”), Kendrick Lamar (“DAMN” and “Black Panther: The Album”), Travis Scott (“Astro World”), Mount Kimbie (“Love What Survives”), Beyonce (“Lemonade”), Logic (“Young Jesus”) and Jay Rock (“Redemption”).
So, it’s no surprise to see that he hasn’t come out with anything in the last few years. He has kept one packed schedule.
In general, Blake is a rhythm and blues artist who puts a heavy emphasis on his synthesizer. He incorporates several elements of electronic music from his UK bass background to creating and being an avid user of post-dubstep.
However, “Assume Form” sees Blake departing from his more at-home sounds: chilling atmosphere, minimal instrumentation and heavy emphasis on vocals.
That’s not to say that this record isn’t that, but it’s much different from his previous records, which is the case for most of his records.
At its core, “Assume Form” is an alternative/experimental R&B record with each track whirling past the ear drum with such finesse. This is done by using heavy sampling from early ‘60s and ‘70s R&B vocal progressions.
But, it is also heavily doused with UK bass and trap rap high hat flutters, since each track is bolstered with heavy hitting bass and many tracks have the ringing of the high hat.
Going away from the instrumentation, the features that Blake brings in for some of the tracks either bring essential additions for him, or seem to be a bit of a flop.
“Tell Them” and “Where’s the Catch,” featuring Metro Booming/Moses Sumney and Andre 3000 respectively, are equally heavy hitters on the track listing. Sumney brings a cerulean and soulful/funky singing voice over the atypical trap instrumental of the track and Andre 3000 brings a subtle charm and ambiance to his track.
“Barefoot in the Park” featuring ROSALIA is an interesting experimentation from Blake dabbling in Latin American music. It’s an interesting twist because Blake and Rosalia both have amazing chemistry together, but his vocals, alone, over the same instrumentation don’t quite have the same charm and sunniness that she has.
Lastly is the track “Mile High,” featuring Metro Booming and Travis Scott, which is an interesting combo. At the end of the day, Scott doesn’t bring anything new to the table when it comes to the typical trap sound that is produced. It’s even more awkward since Scott doesn’t exactly fit when the track gets more ambient and minimal as it drives on.
So, what about the record as a whole? For me personally, I quite enjoy the project, especially since I have never been a huge fan of his past work because of the lack of substance for the extremely minimal compositions he would produce.
Tracks like “Can’t Believe the Way we Float,” “Are you in Love,” “I’ll Come Too,” “Power On” and the first two tracks I mentioned, are filled with enough instrumentation, vocals and presentation to keep me engaged.
They all have heavily repeated sample and very easy/whimsical bass chords.
But “Assume Form,” “Into the Red,” “Don’t Miss It” and “Lullaby for My Insomniac” don’t have much going for them from vocals to production.
In conclusion, it’s a great effort from Blake and I can’t wait to see what he does with these ideas into the future.But it’s still extremely far from a perfect record, so I give it a 3.3/5.
Happy listening, Gannon University!