James Blake didn’t write a song as beautiful as Retrograde even this time.
It’s been six years since Overgrown, during which time Blake released his third album (The Colour In Anything) and worked closely with Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, André 3000 and Travis Scott.
In recent years, he has become one of the most important producers in the world, refining his electronic sound and examining every centimeter of his pain so that he earned himself the “sad boy” label.
Of course, we can’t say that he is the happiest guy on Earth because his music is always imbued with melancholy and heartache and we listen to it sharing the same feelings.
Despite this, someone still writes: “I’m listening to James Blake’s new album and I wanna die right now”.
Okay… I mean, you’re not listening to Alvaro Soler at all!
As well as Bon Iver, Damien Rice and Giovanni Truppi, James Blake is that kind of musician you listen to when you need to suffer. I mean… when you need to suffer well.
And that’s the point: his latest record doesn’t hurt us enough. It’s like Blake lost the magic of his first two albums when we believed there was finally someone able to stitch us up with a fragile falsetto and a few sentimental piano chords.
It looks like Blake changed his approach to music because he is a new man now, changed by love.
As he recently tweeted, his girlfriend Jameela Jamil is the reason Assume Form exist:
To @jameelajamil I love you and you are the reason this album exists, but now everyone else has it, so I’ll see you at home in 30 mins and we can talk shit about everyone.
— James Blake (@jamesblake) January 19, 2019
James Blake’s new album Assume Form has caused some critics to alter their perception of him as a “sad boy,” because on this new record he sings about being happy in love. On I’ll Come To, Blake talks about learning to care less what other people think. In other words, Assume Form is an album that finds its strength in ego:
The world has shut me out
If I give everything I’ll lose everything
Everything is about me
I am the most important thing
And you really haven’t thought all those cyclical thoughts for a while?
The previous album covers showed a blurry Blake or a painted Blake standing alone. But now, over two years later, he shows clearly his face.
Probably he assumed a definite form but that doesn’t mean he is musically in focus.
And that’s because the modern rapper scene has tainted Blake’s genuine sound. On Assume Form we can find a lot of guest coming from contemporary hip hop scene. Blake makes exceptional use of André 3000 (Where’s the Catch?) while on Mile High Travis Scott gives his worst feature of all time. The soulful touch of Moses Sumney appears on (Tell Them) featuring the airy production from Metro Boomin. The Spanish electro-flamenco singer Rosalìa shows up on (Barefoot In The Park) mixing her passionate sound with Blake’s icy beats.
Through these features, Blake explores new lands where he seems not exactly comfortable. So, despite the title, Assume Form sounds like a multi-genres and amorphous mass rather than a record where Blake assumed his perfect form.
In a way, it’s as if Blake had lost some of his authentic candor gaining self-confidence and following the modern trends: we always find him an excellent master in production but we can’t feel his wonderful and emotional sadness.
There are moments of genuine melancholy, like Are You in Love?, Don’t Miss It and Lullaby For My Insomniac where finally we can suffer like Christ on the cross. Only those tracks smell like the old Blake we missed: vocoder, piano, and deep sadness are just the three things we’d like to feel in Blake’s album.
In short: we really want to start suffering again.