It ain’t hard to tell. On his fourth studio album, James Blake is madly in love. Following an appearance on Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD and two incredible singles, I counted the seconds until Assume Form. The London electronic soul singer is a jack of all trades. And he has been for quite some time despite just now getting the attention an artist of his caliber deserves. He produces, writes, and performs with a style all his own. His shadowy persona peaked my interest back in 2013. When “Retrograde” graced my ear for the first time, Blake sold me on his artistry immediately. During those times I was searching for new experimental music. There must be something special in the English water. Because you won’t find two more genre-pushing musicians than James and FKA twigs. Though I’m still waiting for her album, I am ecstatic about how Assume Form turned out.
However, if I had to list its biggest flaw it would be its opening and closing presentation. Currently I am of the mindset that title tracks are no longer relevant. To me, title tracks put too much pressure on an artist to encapsulate an entire album’s themes into one, usually-underwhelming track. Here Blake establishes his niche and signature sound from the jump. Yet he neither makes a statement nor delivers much of a tune. Do I like the song? Sure. But “Assume Form” feels like a short-story prologue — unnecessary and ultimately a waste of spotlight. I have caught myself singing the hook, though. Like I said, I enjoy the track’s aesthetic. It tends to drag a bit nonetheless. I’m not a fan of intros that overstay their welcome. If I had the reins of the album rollout, I would begin with “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow.”
It serves as a comprehensive sample of the album’s vision due to its dreamy background vocals and lovey-dovey lyrics. Blake’s transformation from intriguing enigma to proud lover is rather heartwarming. Compared to his previous albums, Assume Form has the most overt direction lyrically and sonically. While his past work is much riskier, his latest effort sees him shedding the skin that was his self-doubt and despondence. Additionally, other than a hum-drum appearance from Travis, these feature selections were stellar. Guests André 3000 and Rosalía steal the show without upstaging their host — a difficult feat of craftsmanship for both parties. Vapor-like synths, vocal samples dripping with nostalgia, and vehement romance make Assume Form a beautiful tale of emotional ascension. In spite of a somewhat messy track sequence, the sonic quality here is undeniably high. These 12 tracks may not demand your attention. Yet once they have you, they don’t let go.