by Rowan Lees
James Blake has returned with his fourth full length album in eight years, adding to the success of the previous with fresh musical ideas, solid songwriting and a welcome spark of joy. The release of the tracklist intrigued, with record breaking, rap producing powerhouse – Metro Boomin listed on two songs along with Travis Scott, Moses Sumney, and the elusive Andre 3000.
The album begins with its title track, shimmering piano and tentative percussion laid underneath Blake’s vocals as he confides “when you touch me I wonder what you could want with me.” The track grows in confidence with beautiful vocal effects and swarming orchestral sounds before the final line “doesn’t it seem much warmer, just knowing the sun will be out.” The opener feels like a great microcosm for both the album itself, and the emotional response of the listener, growing in confidence at every beat and ending with a positive realisation of what the world holds for us if we’d only open up to it.
The Yung Metro produced tracks that ensue feel a little out of character for James Blake, especially after his most recent album The Colour In Anything, which was dominated by melancholy piano ballads. They both have an undeniable energy and enthusiasm about them which is helped along greatly by the various vocal ingenuities of both Travis Scott and Moses Sumney. However, the real bright spots of the album for me are where James Blake and co-producer, Mount Kimbie’s Dom Maker, experiment and find slower, more warming sounds such as in ‘Into the Red’ and the soul sampling ‘Can’t Believe the Way We Flow’.
Many of the lyrics present deal with issues of anxiety, particularly around love. Blake seems to list every question an anxious and avoidant man could ask before falling in love, luckily we get to hear some of the answers too. On the joyous ‘I’ll Come Too’, honest self expression prevails as James leaps out of his shell, sharing that he has “nothing to lose – with you” and continuing on ‘Power On’ with a cheeky line that tells us one of those unparalleled joys of romantic coexistence – “Let’s go home and talk shit about everyone.”
On occasional listens there would be lyrics that grated on me, that I found to be too optimistic or cringeworthy. But on other days the joy of the expression Blake has found in his new romance seemed to be hard-won, a result of Blake’s own battles with depression and an uncertainty towards romantic attachment. The album provides an answer to its own question which is: to be ‘reachable’, touchable’, to return from the ether and back to what is real, then to cherish what it is you find.
Image – cover art for James Blake’s Assume Form album