As of the time I wrote this review, Wisconsin had fallen into the depths of winter. It snowed three times this week. The cold has filled the air with melancholia. We’re all searching for something to make ourselves happy. Enter James Blake’s fourth album, Assume Form.
It’s been a bit under three years since Blake released a full body of work. His last full-length album, The Colour in Anything, like much of Blake’s art, was characterized by an ever-present sense of melancholia — layered worlds that explored the feelings loneliness, isolation and sadness. The Colour in Anything, though it had some highs throughout, was often a chore to get through. It was disjointed and seemed to suffer from an identity crisis. Assume Form sheds the excess for cohesion through Blake’s newfound love.
It seems like Blake has found an escape from the emotional desolation found in prior releases. A big part of that, it seems, is due to Blake’s relationship with actress and activist Jameela Jamil. His sentiments toward Jamil are deeply heartfelt confessions that work as a glimpse into a relationship that has reinvigorated his love for himself, the people in his life and the world around him. It’s a breath of fresh air.
Collaborations with Metro Boomin, Travis Scott and Moses Sumney set up the album’s atmosphere early on in the track list alongside a solo track from Blake titled “Into the Red,” which explores the countless sacrifices people make to ensure their partner’s safety, health and happiness.
“Barefoot in the Park,” a track featuring absolutely stunning vocals from ROSALÍA, is one of the major highlights of the album, as it explores the beauty of spending intimate moments with someone you share a deep connection with. The love is underscored by the potent lines “Who needs balance?/ I’ll see you every day.” It’s also a moment on the track list where Blake’s intricately layered production shines especially bright with glossy synths, fluttering drums and hymn-like backing vocals.
There is no shortage of exhilarating moments on Assume Form. In the second half of the album, aided by a whirlwind of alliteration crammed into an unpredictable verse from André 3000, Blake tries to explain away the joy he feels on “Where’s the Catch.” André 3000’s verse is jam-packed with dexterity as he raps, “Harmony, harmony, how many, how many/ Days of amazin’ will it be before it phase?/ And I say I told you so (told you so).”
While Blake’s voice comes across as instantly recognizable, there is also an aura of anonymity that separates the man from the music, which makes Assume Form instantly relatable to anyone who knows the feeling of finding a new confidence and passion for life thanks to the sacrifices and kindness of someone who choses to care. Assume Form’s profession of love is not one of passion; rather, it comes from a place of gratitude — expressing the endless thankfulness for all of the things, big and small, that a partner does to ensure not only the success of the relationship, but the growth of both individuals as people.
What’s most impressive about Assume Form is Blake’s blend of abstract song writing alongside straightforward confessions. Mixed with the spacey, often-shimmering production, Blake’s words become gospel representative of newfound — and hopefully long-lasting — love.