Blake is clearly in a good place, unexpectedly embedded at the centre of pop culture, and his new album adds bright colours to his sound

It feels strange now to recall a time when James Blake’s elevation from underground post-dubstep auteur to hotly-tipped mainstream artist seemed like the result of a clerical error. It was hard not to be impressed by his eponymous 2011 debut album, but it was equally hard not to wonder whether this really was the stuff of which silver medals in the BBC Sound of … poll and spots on the Radio 1 A-list were made. If you listened to its sparse, abstract, deeply uncommercial assemblages of treated vocals, electronics and piano, there was something very odd indeed about his name being mentioned in the same breath as Jessie J.

But look at him now: ensconced in sunny LA with a celebrity girlfriend, the actor Jameela Jamil, his mobile number apparently in every major rapper’s phone, so he’s can be reached on speed dial whenever a melancholy voice is required. His solo albums have sold solidly, not spectacularly, but a list of prior collaborators – Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Chance the Rapper, Future, Jay-Z, Vince Staples – offers evidence of a man embedded at the centre of pop culture.

He has good reason to feel pleased, which explains Assume Form. His last album, the utterly downcast The Colour in Anything, so amplified the frail, introverted, careworn aspects of his sound that it started to feel rather too whiny and self-pitying for its own good. By contrast, its follow-up arrives bearing songs called things like Mile High, Barefoot in the Park and Can’t Believe the Way We Flow.

The guest list reveals Blake’s well-connected status: Travis Scott, chart-topping trap producer Metro Boomin and Outkast’s André 3000. The latter’s verse, over scrabbling electric guitar and a gently chugging house beat on Where’s the Catch is, mercifully, a more palatable representation of their musical kinship than the 17-minute instrumental improvisation on piano and bass clarinet the pair released on SoundCloud last year. The music, meanwhile, is noticeably more pop-facing than its predecessors. Such things are obviously relative – Blake’s songs are frequently still winding and episodic and flecked with lapses into silence: on the title track, scattered electronic blips crash out of time against a fluttering piano line and sped-up female voices.

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