James Blake: Assume Form Album Review
Written by Dylan Reynolds on February 10, 2019
Title: Assume Form
Artist: James Blake
Record Label: Polydor Records
Release Date: January 18, 2019
For all the people who view James Blake as a “sad boy,” Assume Form is a slap in the face. But it’s like getting slapped in the face by the warm side of an extra-soft pillow, because this album is warm, soft, and the happiest music Blake has ever released.
Lyrically, Assume Form is all about love. It’s about the relationship between Blake and his girlfriend, the actress Jameela Jamil, and the things they do. It’s about how in a time of depression, Blake learned how to be present and vulnerable, and how that allowed their relationship to blossom.
Blake’s lyrics are honest and well-written, but they make little effort to invite the listener in. A lot of times they’re just about how Blake and Jamil do everything together in their own private world. “Into The Red” talks about a joint bank account (very exciting lyrical topic, I know). “I’ll Come Too” is about following your lover as they travel around the country — a concern most of us will never have. “Power On” includes the line, “Let’s go home and talk shit about everyone,” which is one of the more arrogant lyrics I’ve heard in a while. Not only are you not invited to their private world, but they’re probably smearing your name behind your back.
It can be tiring to listen to a celebrity sing about his codependent relationship with another celebrity for 48 minutes. But it is honestly so refreshing to hear Blake full of joy that this doesn’t get too annoying. Also, the prettiness of the music is sufficient to cover up whatever self-absorption the lyrics reveal.
Blake’s previous music has been pleasant to listen to, but Assume Form really leans into the sounds of piano and strings combined with smooth electronic instruments, resulting in a soothing sound that could put anyone in a sentimental mood. He even throws some trap influence into the mix on a few songs, including the Metro Boomin-assisted “Mile High,” without losing an ounce of smoothness.
“Barefoot In The Park,” featuring the talented Spanish singer Rosalía, is another song that’s so pretty it threatens to absorb the listener into its world, which might not be such a bad thing. And the album’s lead single “Don’t Miss It” chronicles the process of healing from depression so elegantly that anyone who hears it is invited to see the world around them with fresh eyes. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s very easy to get sucked up into the sweeping instrumentals and accompanying emotions in Assume Form.
This isn’t a perfect album. At times it feels a bit pretentious and single-minded, but there is a definite joy to it all. While James Blake was living with the reputation of a “sad boy” musician, he was falling in love and climbing out of the rut of depression. And even though it seems like codependency may have been his escape mechanism, it’s really cool to hear him sounding so happy.