In early 2018 after James Blake released a stunning cover of Don McLean’s dreary ‘Vincent’ I had decided to revisit Blake’s discography once again. Each of the maybe six times I’ve done this I’ve struggled to grasp a connection. This time when I listened to his debut I was rattled to the core. I felt as if I had found a modern-day renaissance painting. I had found a dying passion for a record, maybe seven years too late. Then ‘Overgrown’ and ‘The Colour in Anything’ were next, and my passion dwindled to an enjoyment. ‘Overgrown’ still makes its case at being a great record, but I can't help the feeling that it feels like DLC that doesn't expand the story of the despondent sound that twisted my head a hundred and eighty degrees. ‘The Colour in Anything’ may suffer the exact same issue, but this time it overstays its welcome. I must defend the record though, it's still very good but using the word "good" in conjunction with Blake's discography should be out of the question. Until my body fully decays, I will stand by Blake's self-titled album, in terms of production being the single most influential album of the decade. I don't need to bring up a lot of proof to that listen to the Billboard Hot 100, and I can guarantee you will hear a Blakeissem on 75% of pop or rap. There's a reason a growing list of music biggest names are flocking to work with Blake; Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Bon Iver, Jay-Z, Vince Staples, Travis Scott, and Oneohtrix Point Never is just a list of musicians Blake has had his hand in the production or vocally in just the last three years.
Fast forward to now 2019 a fourth album titled ‘Assume Form’. A somewhat out of nowhere release, with very little in the way of build up. Obviously, I've gone in with reservations, continuing to think the ship is going to remain in the same direction. Blake defined the sound an entire decade of music and came into the decade swinging; thankfully he's leaving with a swing that nearly as hard.
Exploration is precisely what Blake needed, and it's to a tee this record brings that to the table. "She saw every hand in my pocket/She sold her gold rush/She watched me lose face every day/Rather than lose me/She was the gold rush..." Blake softly comforts over cloudy keys on ‘Into The Red’. It's no stranger that Blake gets exclusive on cuts, the drab loneliness of past outings is replaced with a romantic vulnerability which is an undeniably sweet personal invitation that impossible not to be grappled to. While Blake's trademark sound of abstract minimalism remains, his newfound light in his personal life brings out a sensuality brims to the surface with open arms.
The warmth is nearly non-stop, I hate using the term instant classic but its hard to not describe the staggering ‘Are You In Love?’ Without using that term. It's a track that blooms for assurance “It's all on thin ice, thin ice, thin ice/Your answer will die, will die with me/Are You In Love?” The 1980s-esque ballad contains mountains of vocal layering that are so floaty, so full that it blossoms a garden that pads my landing. ‘Where is the Catch?’ Andre, the greatest no questions asked, ricochets off himself and a marble-like beat after clambering how much he “…hates heavy ass verses” he goes on dissecting his mental position with himself, "We build and discover gold/Alchemists make it silver before you know it/Negative nickels until it's void/Aluminum foil it back to soil, oh yeah" It's a brutally dark sentiment of emptiness that hits much deeper in context with its bright surroundings, no matter the embrace there's no promise to forget feeling this way. It’s all tied off with mesmerizing harmonies shared with 3 Stacks and Blake, it’s not only an album highlight but a guaranteed year end highlight. Diving straight into a pool of devoted bubbles of ‘I'll Come To’, it's a continued display of how much Blake cherishes not only his current state with himself and his love but also the soul that's riddled his music for almost a decade; Cooke, Gaye, Wonder, all remain prominent. A simple “I’ll throw my hat in the ring…” is all that’s needed on a melody as suspended as this. These three tracks back to back to back create one of the best sounding musical sandwiches that you can find, and you'll want to binge eat it.