James Blake & Friends Are Fluid with Assume Form
Evan Dale // Jan 19, 2019
Even upon the most unpredictable and unexpected of artists lies a certain predictable expectation. It’s funny that those who invent wildly beyond our own imaginations and create vividly beyond our own abilities are simultaneously those most subjected to our desires – our requirements – for more from them. Many think of themselves within the grasp of thrivation under such scrutinizing buildups, but nearly all crumble beneath the limelight and the realization that they are seldom thanked more than a hand tool for the jobs they so poetically perform. And that, in fact, they are often thrown aside for taking new risks and pushing towards there, where art is yet to take us. Successful avoidance of such scrutiny and betrayal exists in the artistry itself and not the public realm. Thus, oftentimes the most sincere, genuine, and intrinsically devoted to their art exist under the shadow of mystery and away from the camera altogether, only emerging to deliver more innovative and necessary art.
Today is a special day, and it’s easy to see that specialness just in the collective of collaborative artists featuring on James Blake’s Assume Form. Metro Boomin, Travis Scott, Moses Sumney, ROSALÍA, and Andre 3000 round out a short albeit incredibly varied, talented, and fluidly organic quintet of creatives guest spotting on the album. The choices are obvious when considering their individual histories of subscribing to experimental liquidity and evolving artistries. Akin to Blake himself, none of the aforementioned believe in creative stagnation and have no qualms proving their risk-taking worth on Assume Form.
His first since 2016’s The Colour In Anything, Blake’s fourth career full-length comes at an interesting and incredibly difficult to define moment in music history. Perhaps that’s perfect.
There has never been any definition for Blake himself who has quietly existed as a premier musician across all of music’s grey areas for nearly a decade. Only crystalline vocalism, a knack for hyper-experimentalism, and a continuously growing circle of very powerful and talented friends have remained constant over that span. And predictably, Assume Form exceeds again our expectations for the unexpectedly experimental.
With what is sure to be an influential project on the course of music, well… forever, Assume Form is quite possibly the most transcendental work of Blake’s career. And at a time when all of music’s foundational pillars are crumbling into the indefinable space of post-genre grey area, it will come to be incredibly defining of our epoch. At times taking the aesthetic of a high-energy hip-hop album, it, at others, breaths of an emotionally-evoking ballad. Intermittingly exploding with pops of electronically experimental quips, it’s also strewn with orchestral composition. Changing paces and cadence, stylistically unbound, effortlessly transitioning between polarizing moods and emotions, and constantly evoking both, Assume Form, down to its title, only fails in achieving its titular command. Form, at least for James Blake and his friends, doesn’t appear to exist. At least not in a traditional sense.
Growing, moving, changing, and evolving, Assume Form can easily be considered a microcosm of James Blake himself. And maybe, at our best, a microcosm of all of us even if we’ve forgotten how to evolve lately. It is the best in art – a fluidity and understanding that permanence does not exist.
But above the depth, it also thrives. At a song-by-song basis, Assume Form also succeeds. There are radio hits the likes of which Blake is not unaccustomed to. And there are perhaps no independent tracks existing outside of that realm, able to be pulled and stripped from their surrounding elemental makeup while unearthing a new, more easily-digestible identity.
The titular opener is a vibrant, uplifting, emotional journey through bubbly keystrokes, orchestral string sections, an inviting sample, and Blake’s uninterrupted ability for songwriting and emotionally responsive delivery. The Metro Boomin produced pair of tracks to follow drastically shift the project’s direction without sidestepping its fervently emotional form, allowing Travis Scott, Moses Sumney, and Blake himself to collaborate and balance one another in ways no other soft-spoken vocalist could come to achieve. Tracks like Into The Red, Are You In Love, and I’ll Come Too provide Blake the space he needs to explore his romantic and often romantically downtrodden approach of soft-spoken, quirkily developed love songs. Can’t Believe The Way We Flow and Don’t Miss It pay homage to Blake’s strong experimentally electronic roots, granting him the space necessary to work within his comfort zone as an off-center electronic producer / vocalist duo rolled into a single package. A collaboration with Catalan songstress, ROSALÍA not only results in Barefoot In The Park momentarily stealing the spotlight from the rest of the project, but also gives Blake ground to explore the usage of Spanish influence and a differing kind of production altogether. Where’s The Catch appears to push both Blake and Andre 3000 out of there comfort zone and into a space they thrive in ways we haven’t heard before.
Long story short, there is nothing but brash experimentation and unfailingly bold risk-taking driving the project. And yet, through it all, nothing is lost. Assume Form never assumes form, and if it does, its form is certainly fluid in nature. And in that lack of definition, that lack of form, that lack of comfortability, Assume Form is a genial representation of music’s current state, sure to even in greater measure influence music’s future.