James Blake has always been sort of a hidden treasure. His vocals range from deep, crooner-like notes to spine-shivering falsettos. Despite my love for James Blake, he’s not quite a mainstream artist. His name could often be confused for James Blunt’s, and his voice gives off vibes similar to Sam Smith. Basically, he sounds pretty much the same as every other mid-20s to early 30s British male artist today.
With that being said, Blake’s newest album is a career game changer. “Assume Form” was released in January of 2019 — his first full-length album since 2016.
Blake blends his electronic rhythm and blues style with the likes of popular rappers like Travis Scott, Metro Boomin, André 3000 and Spanish singer Rosalía.
Tracks like “Mile High” and “Tell Them” almost seem out of place on Blake’s album, and if his name wasn’t attached, you wouldn’t even know it was him. The track has hard beats hidden behind a softer melody, giving off a ballad-rap vibe, similar to that of Post Malone songs like “Better Now.”
Blake still remains true to his signature style, however. Songs like “Power On” and “Lullaby For My Insomniac” showcase Blake’s softer and more delicate vocals, while also having remnants of some gospel influence. In “Power On,” Blake sings a minimal amount of words, instead focusing on the soothing quality of the lyrical sound.
The lyrics on Blake’s new album are perhaps more uplifting than in his previous work. On “Can’t Believe The Way We Flow,” Blake sings, “I could’ve used you in the early days, well, it’s been such a long, long, long, long time.” He continues with the lines, “With the music of my mind, most of it seems unfinished now. I can’t believe the [way we flow].”
These lyrics contrast Blake’s earlier work on albums like the 2013 “Overgrown,” where the lyrics focus more on heartbreak and hopelessness of romance, as in the track “DLM” (“I know this journey [will end]soon/The colour of our lights/And our lives they can resume/Please, don’t let it hurt you more/It’s in your stare and at your core”).
Despite Blake playing with collaboration on “Assume Form,” the album as a whole still remains true to Blake’s brand. The music follows grooving and soulful melodies while still retaining sincerity in the lyrics and drawing the listener in with an ever-adapting voice.
It almost seems as if Blake is creating a more intimate listening experience. On previous albums, he seemed chilly and distant, but “Assume Form” creates a warmth that echoes Blake’s own. His sound is haunting yet romantic, blended between a mix of subtleties that creates a growing desire to listen closer.
It seems that with “Assume Form,” Blake is trying to do just that. Whether he is looking to assume a new form in his musical identity, or simply settle into his ideal form of bliss and romance, Blake gives listeners the opportunity to reevaluate his grade as just another sad British boy.