James Blake: a return to his roots

In his recent record, James Blake returns to his own unique realm of soul-influenced electronic R&B.

In Assume Form, Blake’s voice is used as an instrument to form complex layers of leading vocals and backing vocals, occasionally appearing to sing a duet with himself through the heavy use of auto-tune on his already impressive range. On the title track Blake’s tones shift and match the electronic orchestra, occasionally reaching an artificial falsetto reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s Thinkin Bout You.

The inclusion of Travis Scott on the album’s second track, featuring production from Metro Boomin, seems like somewhat of a wasted opportunity in comparison to their cut together on ASTROWORLD. Whilst Travis’ laid-back flow contributes to the overall mellow vibe of the track, Blake outperforms him in this regard as he seems to rap a short verse himself. Spanish artist ROSALÍA sings beautifully in her native tongue on Barefoot In The Park, any language barrier for the listener being shattered by her soft tones and the melting of her voice into Blake’s in the chorus.

A significant highlight of the album is Outkast’s André 3000’s guest verse on the song Where’s The Catch?, his multi-faceted flow emerging incredibly over Blake’s production, the violence of his lyrics seeming to juxtapose the poignance of the singer’s chorus. The grim tone of Where’s The Catch? contrasts the hope that is inspired in Blake in Power On, as although he seems to talk of his girlfriend and his surprise at the success of their relationship. The layers of the instrumental deepen as the song progresses, before ending with a few light piano chords.

Blake has peaked again with this album, beating out even his 2013 work Overgrown, bringing out the best in his collaborators. For the most part.


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Jack Oxford

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November 2021
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