In 2013, it was nearly impossible to avoid James Blake. Any Spotify playlist with “Indie” in its title featured cuts like “Retrograde,” “Limit To Your Love” or “The Wilhelm Scream.” His collaboration with Bon Iver and the input of artists like Brian Eno and RZA should have cemented him as a household name with a myriad of classic records. The year is now 2019, however, and we’ve heard surprisingly little from James in the past six years.
During that period, Blake released a few stellar singles — the meandering, unsatisfying 17 track “The Colour In Anything,” and a bevy of great features on records like Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” Jay-Z’s “4:44” and even the soundtrack to “Black Panther.” This mixed bag of content left me unsure of what to expect for his newest record, “Assume Form.”
After spending a few days with “Assume Form”, I’m a little disappointed. I would certainly not call the record bad, it’s very far from it. But it’s also very far from what I know James is capable of giving us. I believe that someday we will receive a James Blake album that redefines what pop and alternative R&B will look like for years to come. Unfortunately, “Assume Form” is not it.
So what is “Assume Form,” then? It’s sparse-nearing-skeletal. It’s sultry and sweet, and it’s certainly the most cohesive record in Blake’s catalog. There are a couple dips in quality on the songs “Into the Red” and “Don’t Miss It,” but they precede some of the most gripping moments on the album so the momentum is never lost for long.
The features on this album show Blake’s ability to bring the best out of whoever he works with. “Barefoot In the Park” reinforces that Rosalía is a name to keep an eye on as we move into the 2020s, and André 3000’s performance on “Where’s the Catch?” proves that he is still the best rapper on the planet despite his reluctance to release another record.
“Assume Form” is good, but falls just short of being great. It will remain in my rotation for a few months, but likely won’t appear anywhere near my end-of-year lists.
7/10 – Worth a listen, includes standout tracks.