North London singer-songwriter-musician-producer James Blake’s latest project, Assume Form, is perhaps the most stripped back venture of his to date. The album consists of 12 songs about anxiety, devotion and all-consuming love, dedicated to Blake’s girlfriend, actress, presenter and activist Jameela Jamil. The album explores feelings of total surrender to another person, as well as themes of self-doubt.
Blake is no stranger to a high-profile collaboration; his backlog consists of work with Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé, but Assume Form is the first time where these names are given a significant portion of time on the record. It is on these tracks where Blake’s abilities as a producer really come to the forefront. The second and third tracks ‘Mile High’ and ‘Tell Them’ featuring Travis Scott and Moses Sumney respectively, are both co-produced by Blake and Metro Boomin, who has a successful discography working with artists such as Future and Migos. The simplistic production, particularly on ‘Tell Them’, works perfectly with the featured guests and allows Blake to showcase his collaborative abilities. The final collaboration of the album ‘Where’s the Catch?’ features André 3000 of Outkast fame. Dramatic production paired with layered vocals and André 3000’s swelling verse perfectly summarises Blake’s multi-faceted talents. In ‘Barefoot in the Park’, Blake invites Spanish artist Rosaliá to the track, whose soft vocals blend seamlessly with Blakes. The lyrics continue the theme of total surrender to another person to the point where everything else disappears: “Who needs to pray? Who needs balance? I’ll see you every day.”
Nevertheless, the highlights of the album come in moments where Blake is on his own. For such a personal theme this is perhaps not surprising. He drops his usual, metaphorical lyricism for a degree of simplicity when talking about his relationship, particularly when discussing his anxieties. In opening title track ‘Assume Form’ Blake sings about feelings of not being good enough, “When you touch me, I wonder what you want with me”, and later in ‘Where’s the Catch?’ he considers the possibility that the relationship is too good to be true.
Despite all this trepidation, at the base of it is an album about giving up oneself. On ‘I’ll Come Too’ Blake expresses his desire to drop everything and follow his loved one around the world: “Oh, you’re going to New York? I’m going there, why don’t I come with you? Oh, you’ve changed to L.A.? I’m going there, I can go there, too.” In an interview with iTunes, he said about this track, “It’s a real story: When you fall in love, the practical things go out the window, a little bit. And you just want to go to wherever they are.”
The penultimate track ‘Don’t Miss It’ is probably the closest the album gets to previous record The Colour in Anything. Blake sings frankly about his struggles with anxiety and missing important events due to it. When he first released this track back in May 2018, one critic was quick to label Blake’s discography as a “catalogue of sumptuous sad boy music.” Blake hit back, however, commenting on the damaging effects that comments like this can have on male mental health.
Assume Form is, in brief, 48 minutes of total honesty. James Blake sings openly and directly about his love-life and the excitement and anxieties that come with those feelings. It is so important for men in music to talk about their feelings in such a transparent way as it allows for the destigmatisation of male mental health. The lyrics are paired with characterful production and meaningful feature tracks. Looking forward, Assume Form, is going to be a very important album for 2019.
Assume Form by James Blake is out now. Listen here.By Phoebe McElduff