As English producer-artist James Blake sang in his opener for the single ‘Don’t Miss It,’ the eager crowd at the Tabernacle suddenly filled the hushed air with screams and cheers. Ebbs and flows of “JAMES” and “BLAKE” and “YES” enveloped the venue already saturated with the aroma of alcohol and weed.
Blake paused. He quipped: “That’s the point, it’s not that.” Though that too seemed to get lost in the sea of people and smells. He went sullen for a moment, yet quickly returned to playing the sparse piano melody as if those transient seconds were an irrelevant daydream.
James Blake’s latest release Assume Form is a blossoming. From the neurotic mumblings of his self-titled debut, to the more melodic-yet-cautious experimentations of Overgrown and The Colour in Anything, Blake takes a bold leap in this fourth album. It’s a collection of songs reflecting not the beaten, worn path of self-loathing and emotional wallowing, but rather the uncharted and hopeful road of acceptance and discovery. By facing himself and taking ownership of his well-being, Blake doesn’t wither and call his emotional spells art – he takes a grounded stand of selflessness and courageously assumes form, as both album and title track suggest.
Blake released the single ‘Don’t Miss It’ nearly half a year before Assume Form emerged. The months leading up to the album’s final release saw Blake thrown into a wave of criticism; Pitchfork’s Kevin Lozano, referring to the track’s overtly depressing tone and its “music video” involving Blake typing the lyrics on his notes app, edified it as “sad boy music.”
Blake took to Twitter in response: “I’ve always found that expression unhealthy and problematic when used to describe men just openly talking about their feelings. To label it all, when we don’t ever question women discussing the things they are struggling with, contributes to the ever disastrous historical stigmatisation of men expressing themselves emotionally…There is no great victory in machismo and bravado in the end. The road to mental health and happiness, which I feel so passionately about, is paved with honesty.”
Blake’s return to Atlanta was met with acclaim. As an artist, his persona has matured and crystallized since his debut eight years ago. People flock to his resonant “sadness,” his chill and introspective lyrics. In Assume Form, Blake accepts this wholeheartedly while taking one foot forward. It’s not all about him anymore. It’s not all about his pain and self-doubt. It’s also the Other, the people that to him seem like concrete pillars braving the cyclone of suffering. He could always avoid, always shell up, always “switch off,” always hide. This time, however, James Blake is reachable, touchable, out of the ether and into the world here and now. He is open and, at last, loveable.