James Blake | Assume Form | Polydor Records
Released: 18 January 2019
Feature Image: Andreas Chudowski / laif
Review by Jenna Dreisenstock
To exhibit true vulnerability, a loving intimacy in the form of deeply sensitive, tenderly intimate artistic expression; is a saccharine painfulness that many are unable to truly express. To bare the self, a nude cradle of stinging, affectionate compassion toward the self and others pulls from a foundation of stereotypical strength to raw melancholic truth. Strength comes in the form of human expression; a true extension into the mind of another, in which our disconnect from the other falls apart. The realisation that we all traverse a similar journey, of finding ourselves; loving and being unloved, falling part and piecing ourselves back together – is journey we all find ourselves experiencing. To be honest and open about the most personal parts of ourselves takes a strength unimaginable.
The emotional journey expressed in English (London-based) producer, songwriter and multi-talented musician James Blake in his fourth studio album ‘Assume Form’ is a traverse into the very depths of the beauty, and heartbreaks of his psyche. To experience an album so willingly vulnerable in its composition is truly rare, and definitely something to be admired. The ability to be so beautifully open within a distinguishable sound of his own, experimenting in timbre, tone and theme is a feat within itself, and to see a musician express such tenderly raw parts of himself within his sound is an immersive experience for all listeners; especially those who relate so deeply.
The title track, ‘Assume Form’ is a thematic introduction to the album and the tender melancholia Blake expresses is a bittersweet beauty in tone, setting the mood for the rest of the album. Greeted with soulful keys in a melodic splendour, a light percussive accompaniment embraces Blake’s sultry vocals, which sing powerful yet still contain the sweet element of gentleness; with lyrics unafraid to introduce themes that tug on our heartstrings.
“Now I’m confiding, know I may have
Gone through the motions my whole life
I hope this is the first day
That I connect motion to feeling
We spin slowly, we spin slowly ’til morning”
Accompanied by an echoic bassline with heartfelt spoken word within the compassion of the soundscape;
“It feels like like a thousand pounds of weight holding your body down in a pool of water, barely reaching your chin”
The track progresses into a romantic star-stud as the sympathetic overwhelm of emotion floats in an R&B-esque comfort of layered timbres, and honeyed keys and strings; in sync with the sincerity in Blake’s vocals.
‘Are You In Love?’ greets us with a synth-love arpeggio weaving within Blake’s vocals, driven into submerge metallic of chords; overlaying, the melodic and rhythmic, into Blake’s lyrical sincerity – a surprisingly harmonious combination of light trip-hop(esque) percussion and nostalgic brassy synth. Progression into sympathetic keys floats gently along with the vocals, a lounge-like feel within an R&B love song and sweetened, melancholic vocal harmonies.
“Are we as one?
Everything desperately leaves behind
Don’t take away this one defense of mine
I reserve the right to disappear
I reserve a table for old time
Back then, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind
But I promise you, your place is safe
Now what about mine?”
Blake’s profound honesty stirs within his ever admirable vocal range; overlayed within a soundscape of timbres that weave seamlessly within each other.
“This could easily slide, it could slide for me
Into borrowed time, borrowed time…
No idea of how many lied to me
But the memory survive, survive in me
It’s all on thin ice, thin ice, thin ice
Your answer will die, will die with me.”
A powerful angelic chorus of harmonies bring a climatic, tear-jerking end to the track.
‘Power On’ brings forth a further focus on building a narrative with the combination of electronics and vocals, the charming chill feel of the accompanying timbres amongst Blake’s heartfelt vulnerability within his lyrics is truly bittersweet;
“I thought I might be better dead, but I was wrong
I thought everything could fade, but I was wrong
I thought I’d never find my place, but I was wrong
And where I least wanted to look, it came along”
The harmonious tenderness expressed in the theme swirling around love and it’s complications, the difficulties of taking accountability for one’s actions in order to show and receive true affection cuts deep within the seascape submerge of a relaxed, yet progressive bassline and glitters of electronic timbres that float lovingly – amongst perhaps the most difficult phrase for many a human being to admit:
“I was wrong.”
Repeated multiple times the phrase pushes fourth to the painfully bare phrase, which hits hard to may who have been in love, those who have been in long-term relationships especially living with their partners:
“Drop the pin on the mood that you’re in
If it feels like a home
Power on, power on”
‘Assume Form’ is a true expression of it’s title, and a beautifully vulnerable expression as Blake bares his stunningly emotive truths within a signature sound yet with a personality that is obviously willing to break through and experiment. With the heartbreaking backlash toward Blake when he opened up to the public last year regarding his severe struggles with mental health, it is truly inspiring to see him respond in turn by baring his truths and sharing with the public his art, and himself – in ways that many can relate to; and that willingness to express so much personal truth within his art, is not an easy thing to do. ‘Assume Form’ in summation is raw and tender, heartbreaking and loving – and a fantastic expression of Blake’s artistic personality and his own very human – truths.
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