Previous title of “Sad Boy” specifically crafted by Mickey Mouse journalists trying to pin point Blake’s melancholic style was indeed incredibly unnecessary and later challenged by the signer himself, “whenever I talk about my feelings in a song, that the words ‘sad boy’ are used to describe it. I’ve always found that expression unhealthy and problematic when used to describe men just openly talking about their feelings.” James stated in a post on twitter. “Please don’t allow people who fear their own feelings to ever subliminally shame you out of getting anything off your chest, or identifying with music that helps you.” He continues to pave the path of self expression and exploration with this latest release, this time however speaking from a different standpoint of view.
James Blake has always been a confessional singer-songwriter—with high emphasis on The Colour In Anything which became his self-fulfilling prophecy which preceded a period of anxiety and depression. The good news is that he found his path, the perma-brilliant artist was reborn with—Assume Form, album filled with beatific sepia soul and yearning doo-wop. Above all, honesty and remarkable production value remain as usual with his seemingly old-fashioned approach to electronic music.
James Blake is a new man, changed by love (actor Jameela Jamil)—and love is the theme of Assume Form as he evaluates every inch of his personal ego, every bit of the vertiginous ecstasy and insecurity of true love at last. Opening track of the album sets the tone as he confides, “I will be touchable/I will be reachable,” stating that he wants to become reachable, to assume form, and to join the world. James has been experiencing dissociation, experiencing his life though a television screen he hopes to bridge that disconnect with a chance to find his footing in this surfeit of feelings. He evaluates his previous thoughts through ‘Power On’, James has a rather clinical treatment of romance with the line “I thought sex was at my pace, but I was wrong.” His love life was never paved with rose petals, but he learnt valuable lessons, taken accountability, swallowing his ego, it’s time to power on—only then he can be truly worth of someone’s love avoiding the tragic flip-side of his past ruminations on relationships.
Genuine sweetness shines through ‘Lullaby For My Insomniac.’ James promises to keep Jameela company until the dawn, after all this lushly track was written with aim to help her sleep. Musically, its chords are of the ambient type, with hint of gospel transferred with the vocal harmonies, it dispels any dejection––proof that he’s finally in control. It’s a fucking masterpiece. James even cracks a joke or two, “Tell Them,” a co-produced track with Metro Boomin—soliloquy which ponders on a one night stand, there’s not wanting to be too close to anybody. He confesses, “In the snakepit so long I put posters up”—creating sumptuous surroundings with distant accents, handclaps and soulful verse from Moses Sumney.
True self-reflection comes out on ‘Don’t Miss It’, song deals primarily with themes of overcoming depression and isolation. “Everything is about me/I am the most important thing,” open ups the moment of self-deprecation, you can just sense the contradiction as the word “I” appears in the album’s lyric sheet 136 times— yet it’s the inner monologue of an egomaniac who doesn’t miss his old self, and most significantly doesn’t remember any feelings from the past, mainly due to the fact that he was so wrapped up in himself. ‘Into The Red’ plays as an evaluation, an ode to Jamil which paints her as a figure who stood by him through all the moment, from subsequent depression all the way down to “gold rush” of success.
Assume Form doesn’t feature any of James Blake’s playful sense of surprise which initially performed as a guide for his falsetto’s lithe twists and turns on previous releases. Strings and vocal harmonies are strewn about his sentimental tableaux like so many gilded lilies. Many would possibly find kinship in “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow,” romance is a commercialised subject but the track presents a rather systematic and performative approach towards this romantic venture; why are we watching James and Jameela perform a slow dance in front of a mirror?
‘Barefoot in the Park,’ is the true highlight of the album with a sample from an old Irish folk song called ‘Fíl a Run Ó’, song features rising Spanish star Rosalia, follows suit: “What you’ve done for me, who needs to hallucinate?”, he asks, “Who needs balance? I’ll see you every day.” Track talks about a man who meets this woman and she brings him out of his shell slowly, once again seeing James relying on external forces to develop his true persona. Where’s the Catch,” with André 3000 questions all the recent events in James’ life, “And everything slows, everything’s rose now“, idiom describes how his relationship with Jameela is flourishing to a point where it’s suspicious, perhaps sharing pivotal message through his suspicions sung over ethereal coo and dandelion-tuft melodies.
Assume Form finds the songwriter in his most positive state yet, as the psychologist Carl Rogers once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.“. However the album which is ostensibly about the freedom to be oneself that love bestows, he not only over exposes himself to but also comes across as naïve, hamstrung by old habits, stuck in his personal time machine. While the album is meant to be about natural flow, it feels forced after all love is a feeling, not a decision.