Album Review: James Blake returns with “Assume Form”

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Album Review: James Blake returns with “Assume Form”

James Blake performs at the Melt! Festival in 2013. His new album,

James Blake performs at the Melt! Festival in 2013. His new album, "Assume Form" marks the return after his nearly three year hiatus.

James Blake performs at the Melt! Festival in 2013. His new album, "Assume Form" marks the return after his nearly three year hiatus.

James Blake performs at the Melt! Festival in 2013. His new album, "Assume Form" marks the return after his nearly three year hiatus.

Andy Zabinski, Arts Writer

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In the past decade, James Blake has proven to be a multi-talented musician, combining outstanding signing, instrumentation, and production on a series of albums and EPs throughout the 2010s. Recently, he has become quite ambitious in stretching his talents, collaborating with a few unexpected artists such as Kendrick Lamar and electronic artist Burial.

His most recent album, “Assume Form” comes nearly three years after his lengthy sophomore project “The Color in Anything” and delivers a much shorter 12 track album. Blake combines a few genres such as R&B, electronic music, and soul to create gorgeous instrumentals that pair quite well with his vocals. Blake has a production credit on every track on the album, except for the song “Power On.”     

The album is at its best when Blake hops on an complex, sometimes unconventional instrumental. Some beats are quite spacey, such as “Mile High” featuring Travis Scott that is reminiscent of Scott’s 2014 song “Drugs You Should Try It.” Other examples of this are “Barefoot In The Park” and “I’ll Come Too” which are also both extremely euphoric songs that implement beautiful vocal samples that add to the aesthetic of each song.

Other beats on the album do a great job of implementing instruments such as pianos, such as “Where’s the Catch.” Songs such as “Into the Red” implement strings to create a beautiful melody.

In addition, Blake does use a couple of beat switches in the middle of songs to help transition from one concept to another. While not sudden, they do a great job of helping matching each topic to each instrumental tone.

While there are many strong instrumentals throughout the album, the vocals are what really brings it together, both Blake’s and each featured artists’. Blake has a very sweet singing voice with plenty of range that can match the tone of each instrumental track. For example, his tone on “Barefoot in the Park” blends with the dreamy instrumental.

Blake also collaborates with a few other artists on the album. Aside from Rosalía and Moses Sumney, the features on the album are quite unexpected.

First, “Mile High” is assisted by Travis Scott, who is known for typically delivering fiery verses slathered in autotune, but on this song he uses his natural singing voice that works well with Blake’s vocals. In addition to Scott, André 3000 appears on “Where’s the Catch,” adding a passionate verse that questions the reality he sees. Finally, Metro Boomin, who primarily produces songs for Atlanta-based rappers, produces two songs on the album. While the trap style influence is present in the production, it does not dominate either of the songs and both instrumentals work well with Blake’s voice.

While the album does boast outstanding instrumentals and vocal performances, the fault in the album is that Blake stretches his talents a little too far, which causes the album to feel a bit disjointed at times. James Blake is an extremely talented producer and vocalist, but many of the tracks on the album have a completely different aesthetic from each other, which results in some difficult transitions from song to song. While this problem is not glaring, it is still present.

Overall, “Assume Form” is an outstanding album that combines various production styles and solid vocal performances for an enjoyable experience.