Review Summary: A James Blake production, rather than a James Blake album.
James Blake always demands your attention. His whole career has been built on creating subtlety from big sounds. Whether it be the slow-burning self-titled, the sombre yet colourful Overgrown
, or the melancholic The Colour In Anything
, James Blake was never scared to explore vast expanses before stripping them down to the flesh in bones. And it always sounded like James Blake. Which is why Assume Form
confuses me so much. Because this isn’t the James Blake I know. The one always pushing the boundaries of minimalism and creating soundscapes from the ground up. On Assume Form
, James Blake throws everything at you immediately. It doesn’t build around you. Rather than one cohesive unit, Assume Form
feels broken into sections. Which leaves James Blake with an identity crisis, one from which the album doesn’t recover.
Perhaps Blake seems too comfortable with his sound. The addition of strings to much of the album provides some colour, but it’s mostly used to mask songs containing sounds already well-tread. ‘I’ll Come Too’ sounds like a The Colour In Anything
B-side that was left off the album for obvious reasons; a grating sample that can’t take away from the subpar lyrics (I’m gonna say what I need/If it’s the last thing I do
); and it isn’t even the worst offender. Much of Assume Form
struggles to cope beneath the boring trap-inspired drum beats, and coupled with some of James Blake’s worst lyrics, it results in an unrewarding listen. Take ‘Power On’ for example:
I thought sex was at my pace, but I was wrong
I thought it mattered more I'd say, but I was wrong
I thought you were second place to every song
I thought you'd overstayed your welcome
I was wrong, power on, power on
These drab lyrics, mixed over a distracting bass line, leaves the listener struggling to maintain interest. The most off-putting parts of the album, however, are by-far the two rap-based tracks. ‘Mile High’, featuring Travis Scott and Metro Boomin, follows the boring minimalistic trap formula, with one or two samples floating above the track. Blake sounds uninterested and abandons the building aspect of his music for a cookie-cutter trap track. The same applies to ‘Tell Them’ featuring Metro Boomin and Moses Sumney. They both lack enough substance to be anything more than James Blake furthering his rap production career. The complete rejection of anything interesting leaves them feeling like James Blake productions, rather than James Blake [I[tracks[/i]. It's odd, then, that 'Where's The Catch' actually feels
like a James Blake track updated for his current sound. It ebbs and flows out of different sounds, and the Andre 3000 feature melds perfectly with the track. But it can't be denied that everything feels too James Blake the producer than James Blake the artist.
And that’s exactly what Assume Form
feels like. A James Blake production. Which is odd, considering ‘Don’t Miss It’, one of the best James Blake singles in a long time, made the final cut. But on the album, it feels so out-of-place and loses the magic it initially had upon release. And closer ‘Lullaby for My Insomniac’ drags on far too long for doing so little. At times, the minimal production does make a comeback, such as on ‘Are You In Love’, but Assume Form
keeps throwing it away without doing anything worthy of mentioning. It never settles on what it wants to be, and personifies a listen full of confusion and disappointment.