James Blake New Review: Assume Form Is Top-notch Pop
James Blake's first three albums pretty much passed me by. I knew they were good, gorgeous, exactly the sort of thing – halfway between Radiohead and Bon Iver – I should love, but the singer's featherlight songs drifted off as soon as they'd finished. His debut, James Blake, had "The Wilhelm Scream" and "Lindisfarne I" and "Lindisfarne II", while follow-up Overgrown had its moments and third album, The Colour In Everything, had the lush "F.O.R.E.V.E.R"... but that was it. I would listen as soon as I could and then rarely listen again after a week. Maybe he would always be this way, an artist, to me, as memorable as cereal.
How nice, then, that his new album, Assume Form – released next week – hasn't been away from my headphones since I heard it, a week before Christmas. Maybe it's the energy, lacking in previous work. Perhaps it's the fact it's incredibly upbeat, something nobody said of Blake, ever. It has oomph to spare, not only on the tracks featuring A-list rappers Travis Scott and Andre-flipping-3000, but on the absolute uplift of a tune – "Power On" is four minutes of Monster Energy via sound.
Assume Form is pop. There are very few opaque chamber numbers here, pretty, twinkling piano songs as ephemeral as they obviously weren't to write. That is how I used to think of Blake but this is muscular writing, full of melody. The gist of his lyrics seem to be that he is in love with his girlfriend, Jameela Jamil, of The Good Place, and the couple really enjoy their life in sunny and spacious LA. Straight Outta Compton this is not. The record exists in a blissed-out bubble, one that, somehow, Blake doesn't make annoying or uninviting.
Loved-up highlights include "Barefoot In The Park" (seemingly about the joys of walking with the love of your life in weather so nice you don't need shoes); "Can't Believe The Way We Flow" (seemingly about how well Blake and Jamil get on) and "I'll Come Too" (seemingly about how Blake doesn't mind driving around a lot when he has Jamil in the car as company).
It's as much of a heart burst as Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear, sung in a way that nods to Jeff Buckley, and, crucially, packs a strong bid for wider appeal surely picked up by Blake's working with Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. This is festival-headline worthy, but for the body, not just the brain. I'm going to be listening to it all year.
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