tue 20/08/2019

CD: James Blake - Assume Form | reviews, news & interviews

CD: James Blake - Assume Form

CD: James Blake - Assume Form

Figurehead of blubstep grows up

Blake swaps trademark melancholia for a sense of wonder

There is an inevitable change that comes with moving from the realms of self-produced bedroom blubstep to slickly-produced West Cali smoothness that will cause chaotic realms of loss of self, fans and at some level, originality. But let’s not forget – this is surely what Blake has always been aiming for. Yes, Assume Form has a degree of soullessness that is a stark contrast to his self-titled first album – but that’s part of the journey from angsty, bleak, indie-dubstep to successful, Mercury Prize-winning musician.

The level of collaboration on this album (Metro Boomin, Travis Scott, Moses Sumney, Rosalia) perhaps covers over the obsequious originality that fans of his previous albums may find more genuine. Gone is the savage melancholia of Overgrown or The Colour In Anything. It’s replaced by a slightly more insipid tone – one concerned less with heart-wrenching candour and nuance, and more with a sense of wonder in discovering that happiness can be real.

In Assume Form, diaphanous piano and strings combine with esoteric lyrics: “Not thinking, just primal / Now you can feel everything / Doesn't it get much clearer? Doesn't it seem connected?” but this jars in tone with the heavy R&B bass of “Mile High” featuring Metro Boomin and Travis Scott. “Tell Them” is a slightly easier collaboration of haunting vocals, hand clapping and words that tell us that he’s a man in love. The collaborations (counting “Barefoot in the Park”, a harmonious, summery Spanish ripple with Rosalia and “Where’s The Catch” featuring André 3000) are slickly produced. “Into the Red” is a beautiful, lyrical, lilting ballad to his love, written in synthy pop and melody that feels more generic than conceptual – which may distance those who like Blake for his basement rave beats.

But rather than berating him for experiencing and creating from anything other than endless misery and crippling self-doubt, perhaps we should celebrate the raw strength of “Power On” which reveals “I thought I might be better dead, but I was wrong". Because while the undulating optimism of “Can't Believe the Way We Flow”, the vulnerable, sunset drenched veneer of “Are You in Love?” and the discordant yet conceptually sweet “Lullaby for My Insomniac” might begrudgingly move Blake towards music considered “nice” rather than “disturbed” maybe we shouldn't berate him. Instead of rushing past this album wondering what happens next and whether or not he really can be a successful musician when not mired in misery, let’s just let him have it.

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