James Blake
Assume Form


2.5
average

Review

by BlushfulHippocrene STAFF
January 19th, 2019 | 42 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist


I don’t know.

There’s this moment on ‘Assume Form’, the opener of, well, Assume Form, where both falsetto and instrumental stall – the twinkling arpeggios, the raindrop hi-hats – and within the song’s threads a bar of verse manifests, much like a spectre, there and then not:

“It feels like a thousand-pound weight holding your body down in a pool of water barely reaching your chin.”

A friend of mine compared this to XXX’s prologue on 17, on which the now-deceased rapper hoped for the album “to cure, or at least numb, [one’s] depression”. That isn’t a favourable comparison – even less so when 17’s “explanation” is deemed preferable. It isn’t this notion of music as “cure”, however, that’s so problematic. Rather, it’s the lack of subtelty involved. It’s the trite, obvious nature of such a line and, indeed, its placement. I mean, of course the “it” – that which holds one down within that pool of water – is that of “depression”. Of a clinical sort, I presume, though perhaps not. A quick google search confirms as much: the line’s taken from a spoken word piece entitled just that, ‘Depression’. That the bar’s given so much weight within the context of the song is telling, then.

Of what though, I’m not sure.

On the one hand, I understand – at least I think I do. It’s the headiness of what’s being discussed. It demands, to some extent, a level of care. That of sensitivity, and so, of course, subtelty. But at the same time, I’m not convinced Assume Form is that lacking. Sure, ‘Power On’ buckles under the pressure of its headiness. A line like “if it feels like a home, power on”, coupled with, for example, “I thought I might be better dead, but I was wrong”, can be difficult to stomach at the best of times. It discards a note about suicide as if it were nothing. It capitalises on the album’s theme of narcissism, but then speaks to its audience as though protagonist and artist and listener were one in the same. It is, however, the least condescending piece I’ve heard this side of Perfume Genius’ ‘Normal Song’ – almost as encouraging, too. Even still, ‘Mile High’ and ‘Tell Them’, the album’s Metro Boomin-produced traversal through mood-driven trap, sees Blake plunging himself further down this shallow pool of aggrandisement, prevarication, and narcissistic self-obsession. But to view these songs as less than disturbing is odd to me. There’s a deep pessimism to both. The two are from flexes. Their hollowness is far from fun.

On ‘Where’s the Catch"’, the ever wise André 3000 preludes his verse with the fact that it “may be a little heady”. And though “[he hates] heady-ass verses, [he] wrote [that] shit”, and so he delivers it. Of course, the statement is far more obvious than the verse itself. (I mean, “A burden in beautiful times, a garden snake / Won’t bite me, but frightens me like I know I’m ate”❔ Fuck.) But more than that verse is “subtle”, it is personal. What I think it demonstrates it this: though there is a disjunct between art as means of expression – and art as a product for consumption – there is nevertheless “truth” in art. Assume Form’s themes are, I’ve little doubt, obvious, though perhaps no less truthful. We can never know – the extent of just how genuine Blake is, that is – but for what it’s worth, I think there’s something there.

If nothing else, ‘If the Car Beside You’ was evidence of that something. Whatever your thoughts on the music itself, the sentiment was strong: “I’m struggling. You’re struggling. We’ll get through this.” I mean, that is trite. I know it is. But it’s comforting. Assume Form is comforting. And there’s enough self-reflection in it to trust in Blake’s awareness of what it in fact is. Even if he doesn't, I don't know how much it matters. In some sense, it’s an attack against those who attacked his sense of sorrow. In another, it’s an attempt to do just as its title suggests, “assume form”. It’s both validation and rejection of the “self” – and then, it's an application of that process to some “collective self”. It’s as trite as those descriptions – perhaps even as obvious – but it’s also a bit successful in that, and to some extent – in fact, to a great extent – that's comforting.

I don’t know, though. Power on, I guess.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
January 19th 2019


2799 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Just a bit of a rambling. Your input is much-appreciated.

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granitenotebook
Contributing Reviewer
January 19th 2019


860 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i like this. new, important thoughts i hadn't really considered.

Evok
January 19th 2019


7670 Comments


Overgrown is so good I'm kind of scared to listen to this.

Digging: ETCH - Ups & Downs

Lord(e)Po)))ts
January 19th 2019


41657 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It's better than overgrown but that's my least fav James Blake so you may not share the sentiment

Digging: Edyth - Bare II

Halfman
January 19th 2019


232 Comments


I'll Come Too is my favorite track. and i really like him and Moses Sumney together. more collabs from them would be cool.

calmrose
January 19th 2019


4608 Comments


this is awesome

Digging: Bear vs. Shark - Terrorhawk

Toad
January 20th 2019


2000 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Cool review. The album played off as a low stakes affair to me and I was content just enjoying it for what it was, even though I agree it's definitely a disappointment after "if the car..."

DoofDoof
January 20th 2019


2153 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

If all the album was as strong as the 1-2 punch of 'Where's the Catch' into 'I'll Come Too' I'd probably 4.5 rate it



But it isn't

Digging: Jungsttter - Love Is

rabidfish
January 20th 2019


4895 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

there's only 1 good song in the whole first half

this isn't boding well at all

Digging: Haruomi Hosono - Hochono House

DoofDoof
January 20th 2019


2153 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

first half is...not good

rabidfish
January 20th 2019


4895 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Ok i'll come too is jam, i'll give him that.

I can't help but feel a disconnection between me and this dude's voice. Also slight anger. Like i'm on a date and there's this dope with a ukelele abussing his open mic rights to sing his sappy bullshit, looking directly at my girl and coyly smiling like i'm not even there.



Rosalia sucksss...can't wait in 5 years time when everbody collectively realizes that shit was waaaaay overhyped.

bigguytoo9
January 20th 2019


554 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Cant Believe The Way We Flow is my fave track of January so far.

Lord(e)Po)))ts
January 20th 2019


41657 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

First half is just as good as the second half. Second half has two of the best songs but it also has the two worst songs

Lord(e)Po)))ts
January 20th 2019


41657 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Glad I had such low expectations for this, probably helped with the pleasantness of my surprise

DirEnRefused
January 20th 2019


3531 Comments


can't wait to see him again on the new tour

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
January 20th 2019


24349 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Damn lovely review but I was really hoping to enjoy this. I dig the second song a ton tho

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2019


16680 Comments


“I’ll come too” is real shit, true shit

Slex
January 20th 2019


6174 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5 | Sound Off

Rosalia does not suck I will end you

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Lord(e)Po)))ts
January 20th 2019


41657 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I dont know anything about her outside of this track but its good

everyfruit
January 20th 2019


3 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I was just...bored. I am rarely bored.



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