With new album, Blake ‘assume(s) form’ of versatile artist

English singer-songwriter James Blake released his fourth studio album, “Assume Form,” on Jan. 18. The record features guest performances by Travis Scott and Rosalía. Courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Flickr.

One of my favorite games to play throughout high school was called “Listen To James Blake and Dissociate.”

I still play this game, but it’s usually with other artists. However, James Blake is still a tried-and-true example of peak dissociation music. There is nothing like coming back from New York City when it’s raining, listening to the dull distortion of “The Wilhelm Scream” while the train pulls out of Yonkers and you leave the city behind.

But in high school, there was something more going on. James Blake was a new sound. His 2011 self-titled debut was a bold statement of musical originality, and his follow-up, “Overgrown,” was just as inventive. While people had created music in the same vein as Blake’s, his selftitled debut album was original in its impeccable pairing of R&B with underground UK-based electronic.

I was a bit cold to his last album, “The Colour in Anything,” which I found to be bloated. The best thing I can say about the record is that some of Blake’s finest songs are on it (“I Need a Forest Fire, My Willing Heart” and “Meet You in the Maze”). If you like Blake, then go and listen to this album— you might find something to obsess over.

After a couple of years more of silence from Blake, listeners got their first release leading up to the new album, “Assume Form.” The track, titled “If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead,” was fantastic, and I think it serves as a nice intro to some of the sounds found on this record—especially with the next single released, “Don’t Miss It.” The track is a downright perfect blend of traditional ballad writing and experimentation, and it made me so excited for the new LP. Talk about setting expectationshigh.Nowthatwehavethefull album, I think I can confidently say that it mostly reaches the bar that “Don’t Miss It” sets—at least after the first three songs.

The beginning of this album is a little rocky for me. First of all, the album art sucks. It feels like a gentrified version of that of Frank Ocean’s “Blond,” and completely misses the vulnerability and ambiguity that makes Ocean’s great. Like, if I wanted to look at a white guy making a disdainful face at the camera, I’d go watch “Mad Men” again.

The titular track “Assume Form” is an alright opening, but it really feels like a drag. Blake’s vocals on this cut are very weird— something that continues throughout “Assume Form,” but here they feel particularly unpolished. Next are two collaboration tracks with Metro Boomin, “Mile High” and “Tell Them,” and they are both pretty iffy. The Travis Scott feature on “Mile High” is probably the highlight—except maybe that track’s production, which is admittedly great. Honestly, looking at the tracklist here, just skip the first three songs. The more I listen to “Assume Form,” the more this opening feels out of place. Immediately afterward, the quality of the album just spins around in the other direction. “Into the Red,” “Barefoot in the Park” and “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow”areallexuberant,upliftingandmagnificent songs that reach the bar set by “Don’t Miss It.” Even better, these cuts are more uplifting than Blake’s usual retinue.

“Into the Red” is a fantastic ballad with this swooning hook that I could listen to on repeat forever. “Barefoot in the Park” is somehow even better and is probably the most effective song on the album. This collaboration with Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía sees both performers in tip-top shape. It conveys a sort of infectious chemistry that I haven’t heard in such a long time. Rosalía hasn’t made a bad album yet, and the Latin Grammy award-winning artist is someone you should check out if you hadn’t heard of her before Blake’s endorsement. The rest of the tracks do sound similar a little samey, but they are all pretty excellent, especially the collab track with Andre 3000, “Where’s the Catch?”

What solidifies this album as a solid release is the ending. “Don’t Miss It” and “Lullaby for my Insomniac” are two strong closing tracks. This album is lighter than most of Blake’s material, but ending on the slower cuts such as “Don’t Miss It” and “Lullaby” feels very fitting to his artistry. Like its title, Blake takes up form on this new album—a new form for a career that felt a little stagnant. This is a solid release and well worth your time. Just skip the first three tracks.

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