The first review of a new year is an important one – it arguably sets the tone for what’s to come for the music of the next year. I was lucky enough to be given an album which is the perfect soundtrack to the January blues. James Blake’s stunning ‘Assume Form’ is a perfectly somber amalgamation of hip-hop/R&B and electronic, threaded with gorgeous vocals.
The eponymous opener showcases what we can expect- an album about love in its rawest form. Suggesting until now he’s been closed off from loving, Blake repeats: “I will be touchable by her, I will be reachable.” The track sets the tone for the rest of the album in its composition. Laced with nods to his hip-hop influences, a pitch-shifted spoken section in the track is something you’d expect from Kung-fu Kenny. The interception of delicate strings and keys with an unmistakable vocal however, sees Blake strongly assert his identity.
It is the collaborations on this album which see Blake fully engage with his hip-hop allusions. ‘Mile High’ features Travis Scott and Metro Boomin. It’s not Blake’s first collab with Scott. On the questionably successful ‘Astroworld’, Blake featured on one of the albums stronger entries, ‘Stop Trying To Be God’. ‘Mile High’ showcases Blakes impressive ability to fuse ambient electronic with quintessential hip-hop beats and vocal, with Scott’s famous auto-tuned vocal contrasted with Blake’s rawness. In keeping with this idea of a real exploration of love and relationships, this front-runner explores joining the mile high club, with both Scott and Blake declaring: “Lasting like Duracell”. A lil too much information? I think so.
Metro Boomin returns with Moses Sumney on ‘Tell Them’. Bordering on repetitive, this is one of the albums more upbeat tracks which moves away from the album’s seemingly somber identity. The third collaboration on the album with André 3000 is ‘Where’s the Catch?’. This dynamic track is carried by keys and 3000’s strong vocal, and sounds like it’s split into two. Broken up by a short section which sounds like something we could expect of Del-Rey’s anticipated, ‘Norman F****ing Rockwell’, the track then moves on to again utilise pitch-shifted backing vocals fused with electronic ambience.
Some of the albums greatest moments can be found on Blake’s solo tracks. ‘I’ll Come Too’ is a gorgeously romantic bluesy track about following his love to LA. It’s a huge track which simulates an orchestral like instrumental and showcases Blake’s incredible vocals. ‘Are You In Love?’, has a similar effect, exploring this honest and vulnerable side to Blake we have seemingly been deprived of up until now. ‘Lullaby for My Insomniac’ is exactly how you would imagine. The stripped back track uses layered vocals to simulate the feeling of a large room, which could be a church. The final collaboration on the album is with Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía. The jungle-like percussion is something you would expect to see on a Glass Animals record, and is one of the albums biggest tracks. ‘Barefoot in the Park’ showcases a stunning contrast in vocals and language, creating a glittery track which has all the charm the album promised us.
‘Assume Form’ has the openness we have been looking for since Blake’s debut. An album about love and vulnerability, this is a sexy, sultry and moody album which explores every aspect of love and lust. Blake’s work with the big players Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott has affirmed his hip-hop and R&B influence, which at times can be overpowering and seems to rely on cliches. But maybe that’s the point? However, gorgeous vocals and unmistakable ambience are in abundance, setting off my year in music to a lovely start.