In the eight years that separate his self-titled debut album from Assume Form, James Blakehas quietly shifted the needle of popular music, creating spacious and thoughtful electronic pop while still leaving breadcrumbs for others to follow. Since his emergence, the landscape Blake once laid claim to is now populated by talented interlopers who pair evocative vocals with layers of loops and synths, some of whom appear on this very album. On the long-awaited Assume Form, released after a three-year gap, the English singer-songwriter and prolific producer not only reasserts his creative dominance but surpasses his biggest rival: himself.
Emerging from the English dubstep scene in 2009, Blake took elements of electronica, ambient and soul, and chopped them up to create stirring ballads that sounded like no other. Never confined by such a pedestrian idea as "genre," there are two guiding elements that kept Blake from being overshadowed by his own compositions: his inherent vulnerability and his radiant voice. While much of his previous work, including 2016's The Colour In Anything and 2013's Overgrown, is characterized by his signature falsetto, on Assume Form he uses his full range. The vulnerability is still there, but the sentiments, as well as the delivery, are more candid.
Assume Form also continues his tradition of collaboration, drawing on the talents of rap giant Travis Scott, André 3000 of Outkast, fellow singer Moses Sumney and Latin newcomer Rosalía. Blake enlisted rap producer and hitmaker Metro Boomin to create the trap rhythms he further manipulates on the tracks "Mile High," featuring Scott, and "Tell Them," featuring Sumney. But in true Blake fashion, there are always a few surprises up his sleeve as well, such as incorporating elements of flamenco into "Tell Them" and adding strains of '70s soul to "Can't Believe The Way We Flow," produced by the experimental composer Oneohtrix Point Never.