Charlie Metcalfe brings you a review of artist James Blake’s latest project.
Assume Formdropped in January this year and, as with most of Blake’s work, needed some time to settle. His unusual tones can often leave listeners with the impression of an unfinished piece of work, discordant and unpolished. Give them time, and the chords organise themselves into something truly special.
2019 brought a whole new host of varied features from the English singer/songwriter/producer, allowing the true range of his talent to be displayed. Metro Boomin, Travis Scott, and André 3000 all answered Blake’s call. This added dimension of hip-hop was not surprising, given his previous work with Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Future, despite the apparent genre differences. Bringing hip-hop together with electropop pushed some of the boundaries that collaboration often sets, but gave a perfect example of musical ideals.
The track “Mile High”stands testament to this collaboration. Blake opts for a more steady and consistent beat to what he is familiar with, whilst maintaining his iconic percussion- based sound. This allows Scott’s casual vocals to transcend and set the tone in an atmosphere that hip-hop fans know well. The notes rise and fall until hitting a steady “high”, which brings in Blake’s own vocals in response. It is not only the hip-hop and electropop beats that melt into each other, but also the lyrics. The subject-matter that Scott discusses is still reminiscent of a high-flying lifestyle, whilst taking on an elusive meaning through Blake’s abstract word-matching. The first verse reads:
“Big rocks ’round of ten
Fleetwood down new sand
Two seat ride, cooped in
Don’t leave ’round loose ends”
The listener is forced to dig to discover any meaning, but cars and drugs are likewise included to celebrate true chemistry between the two artists. From this track alone, Blake makes it clear that the theme will be more upbeat from here on out; he’s no longer a “stone on the shore” (Overgrown, 2013), but one of the “big rocks… mile high clubbin’” with Travis Scott.
The album did save room for surprises, with ROSALÍA’s appearance on the track “Barefoot in the Park”. I’ve been listening to the Spanish singer all year, unwillingly. My Spanish housemate listens to her recent album, El Mal Querer, on repeat, and her dominant tone of voice often exudes from the shower and everywhere else in the house. When “Barefoot in the Park” began to play through the speaker, it became clear that ROSALÍA means to spread her influence much farther than Spain alone. She switches between the Spanish and English languages throughout, and allows a delicate, sad, and lilting tone to take over with words that resonate forever. What builds swiftly into a duet, just as swiftly fades away. Spotify’s repeat feature definitely comes in useful here.
In its entirety, Assume Form is a true display of what happens when an artist like Blake makes a stylistic leap of faith. His experimentation with other formats, structures, and genres brings about revelation for many James Blake fans, whilst tenaciously maintaining everything unique about his portfolio.
I suggest: “I’ll Come Too”, “Assume Form”, and “Barefoot in the Park”.
Featured image by: Omeiza Haruna