A look at the fresh new album from English electronic pop lothario James Blake
Artist: James Blake
Recording: Assume Form
Label: Republic Records
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
London’s singer-songwriter, musician, and record producer James Blake just released his highly anticipated fourth record, Assume Form, this past Friday.
A twelve-track love letter to his partner, Jameela Jamil, Assume Form is emotive and vulnerable, featuring lushly textured tracks, layered strings, and subtle electronic rhythms, a step away from his background as a London dubstep producer.
The thirty-year-old artist, known for his vulnerability and combination of delicate falsetto vocals and digital programming, has a long history of collaborations, working with everyone from Bon Iver to Beyonce. Assume Form doesn’t disappoint, as Blake invites guests like Travis Scott, ROSALÍA, and Andre 3000 to join him in his public declaration of love for Jamil.
“She was the gold rush,” Blake croons on “Into the Red,” raw, layered vocals swirling over delicate beats and soft piano riffs. “Gonna keep her in my sights / Gonna keep her in my life.”
The record takes a turn, however, on “Where’s The Catch?” Performed with Andre 3000, the song is a tough look at anxiety and mental health, continuing a conversation that’s been historically difficult and taboo for men in the spotlight to discuss. “Where’s The Catch?” is more than relatable lyrics with a legendary guest; it’s two unimaginably talented men with celebrity, influence, and wealth, willing to step out of the crowd and acknowledge their struggle.
“I love the way he balances slight abstraction with this feeling of paranoia,” Blake said of the verse Andre wrote, full of twisted metaphors and meditations on mental health. “The line ‘Like I know I’m eight, and I know I ain’t’—anxiety bringing you back to being a child, but knowing that you’re supposed to feel strong and stable because you’re an adult now. That’s just so beautifully put.”
The song is uneasy and frantic, capturing the loneliness and isolation that only anxiety can foster. “I was diagnosed with this social thing. I didn’t notice it until I became an entertainer,” Andre said in an interview with GQ in 2017. “I don’t know if it’s the shock of all kinds of people coming up to you or the expectations, but I got to this place where it was hard for me to be in public without feeling watched or really nervous … And it started to bleed over into my normal life. I’d just meet new people, and I would freak out or have to leave.” It’s an introspective track, weighty, but relatable and comforting, in a way; it’s proof to listeners that they’re not alone in their struggle.
With “I’ll Come Too,” Blake returns to his love story, throwing rationality to the site. “It’s a real story,” he says. “When you fall in love, the practical things go out the window a little bit. And you just want to go to wherever they are.”
“Power On” is a step forward, out of the honeymoon phase and into reality, where small disagreements and differing opinions intertwine with the love. “It’s about…being someone who gets something wrong,” Blake says. “If you can swallow your ego a little bit and accept that you aren’t always to know everything, that this person can actually teach you a lot, the better it is for everyone.”
“Don’t Miss It,” the eleventh track on the album, is the standout, in this writer’s opinion. It’s ethereal and fragile, meandering slightly off rhythm as the song progresses, Blake’s voice the focus over a track of fuzzy piano and a pulsing beat. “I think it kind of sums up the mission statement in some ways: Yes, there are millions of things that I could fixate on, and I have lost years and years and years to anxiety,” Blake explains. “There are big chunks of my life I can’t remember. Loves I wasn’t apart of. I was so wrapped up in myself. I think that’s what this is — the inner monologue of an egomaniac.”
From top to bottom, Assume Form is introspective and revealing, an intimate look at Blake’s life — and love — as he enters a new chapter. It’s not without difficulty, but it’s worth it. “I’ve been doing a lot of production work, a lot of writing for the people and projects,” he told Apple Music. “I think the constant process of having a mirror held up to your music in the form of other people’s music, and other people, helped me cross something. A shiny new thing.”
Assume Form is now available for purchase everywhere.