Assume Form is the latest release from James Blake. Assuming material form is very much the driving idea behind this latest project. “The plan is to become reachable, to assume material form, to leave my head and join the world,” is what Blake said in an interview with iTunes regarding the genesis of his fourth album. What that means is that Blake’s new work is probably his most accessible to a wider audience. The stuttering hip-hop beats, combined with electronic wizardry and R+B vocals is still the core of his work, but this time, things are smoothed out a little and accompanied by layers of vocals and strings and collaborations with other artists. I’m sure that for some ardent fans committed to Blake’s particular kind of fractured musicality, Assume Form might feel too accessible, too mainstream, but I think it is a stunning step forward for an artist whose creative edge refuses to bow to peer pressure. Blake’s work in and with hip-hop has long been regarded as one of the potential futures of that particular genre’s leading edge, and while he doesn’t step back from those influences on this project, they are somewhat muted in and in the service of something else, something other. Songs flood into gorgeous orchestral moments, swirling choral vocals, some auto-tuned, some not, classic strings and orchestration lift songs into unexpected major chord crescendoes.
This coming into view, assuming material form and joining the world, is not only present in the songs, it is present on the album cover which pictures Blake probably m ore clearly than he has ever been seen before.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about contemporary portraiture and the habit of blurring faces that seems common of late, and here we have the opposite move-a coming into view, into focus, a new clarity. It would seem that Blake’s album heralds a new and clearer focus for him, hopefully that will be true for the rest of us.