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James Blake's Changing Form

The shape-shifting British singer-songwriter tackles the vulnerability of being in love and depression on his most lucid album to date

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"Now I'm confiding, know I may have/ Gone through the motions my whole life/ I hope this is the first day/ That I connect motion to feeling," James Blake wears his heart on his sleeve on the piano-driven opener/title track of his fourth studio album, Assume Form. The candid openness with which Blake addresses depression and anxiety, the struggles he's confessed of having since his 2011 debut album took off, is stunning to witness especially for an artist whose career is mostly built on nuances, abstraction and negative spaces.

James Blake, Assume Form.

An originator of so-called post-dubstep, the English singer-songwriter has over the years grown into one of the most sought-after producers in today's music scene. Having worked with the industry's heavyweights including Beyoncé, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean, he seems to have cultivated a sense of clarity in his own sound. Dense and murky sonic textures are replaced by bright piano keys, rap verses, and trap beats supplied by collaborators like Travis Scott, Metro Boomin (Mile High, Tell Them), and Outkast's André 3000 (Where's The Catch).

Apart from mental illness, Blake's lyrical themes largely gravitate towards the feelings of being in love whether it's appreciating the sacrifices made by his partner (Into The Red), having the right chemistry with the aforementioned partner (Can't Believe The Way We Flow), wanting to follow her everywhere (I'll Come Too), and wondering she feels the same way (Are You In Love?).

Elsewhere, Spanish songstress Rosalía lends her sultry vocals to Barefoot In The Park while Blake revisits his period of depression and anxiety on Don't Miss It ("The world has shut me out/ If I give everything I'll lose everything/ Everything is about me/ I am the most important thing") and writes himself a song in the hopes of remedying his sleeplessness (Lullaby For My Insomniac).

Quotable lyrics: "Have you ever coexisted, so easily?/ Let's go home and talk shit about everyone/ Let's go home, finally" (Power On).

The verdict: For Blake, Assume Form is a step towards healing. For fans, however, it's a revelation. Listen to this: Barefoot In The Park, Are You In Love, Where's The Catch, I'll Come Too.


THE PLAYLIST

The Cranberries / All Over Now

The sudden death of The Cranberries' vocalist Dolores O'Riordan last year has left a huge dent on the hearts of those growing up in the 90s. The iconic frontwoman had died while working on the group's final album In The End, but thanks to her bandmates Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawler, who helped putting the finishing touches on it, the record will get to see the light of day as it's set for a release this April. Before then, we're treated to its first taste, the ominously titled All Over Now. Musically, it's a straightforward 90s rock number that doesn't veer off too far from what the band's been supplying us since the beginning of their career. "Do you remember/ Remember the night?/ At a hotel in London/ They started to fight," O'Riordan sings in the opening verse which feels wildly prophetic considering the fact that she passed away in a bathroom at a hotel in London.

Radiohead / Ill Wind

Ill Wind, one of the bonus tracks originally appeared on Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool CD alongside the unused James Bond theme Spectre, has just been given a long-awaited digital release and now all seems alright with the world. Despite running on a breezy bossa nova groove, the track oozes the usual sinister sonic undercurrents we've come to admire and expect from Thom Yorke and co. "Keep your cool/ Do not give into emotion/ An ill wind/ Will Blow," Yorke croons in his spine-chilling vocals buoyed by supple percussions and synths. If anyone needs more proof as to why their most recent studio LP, A Moon Shaped Pool, is a gift that keeps on giving, look no further.

Florence + The Machine / Moderation

After going relatively subdued on 2018's High As Hope, Florence + The Machine return to their bombastic baroque pop roots with Moderation, a new cut released alongside its B-side Haunted House. Set to stomping production, the song is reportedly inspired by Florence Welch's childhood experience of being scolded in church. "Then bow your head in the house of God/ And little girl, who do you think you are?" she intones alongside a full-on gospel choir. "You think you need it, you think you want love/ You wouldn't want it if you knew what it was."

Asanee & Wasan / Jai Yen Yen

Speaking of composure, it seems like there's less and less of it nowadays, which is understandable given the current state of world affairs. Always a mouthpiece for everyday Thai citizens, long-serving duo Asanee & Wasan aim to change all that with their comeback single, Jai Yen Yen (Keep Calm). The track is a lurching pop-rock number that finds the pair essentially giving us a sage advice ("Keep calm/ Don't give in to short tempers/ Exhale slowly/ The earth may be getting hot/ But you gotta keep calm"). Apart from a rap verse supplied by Asanee himself, Jai Yen Yen also features a chorus from two rising pop songstresses Earth Patravee and Ink Waruntorn.

Boy Harsher / Face The Fire

On their latest offering Face The Fire, Massachusetts noir synth-pop duo Boy Harsher once again weave driving synths with industrial darkwave while maintaining the composure of imperturbable goths. The song, lifted from their new record Careful, further proves how vocalist Jae Matthews and beatmaker Augustus Muller can craft so much mood with so little. And like a good chunk of their previous stuff, Face The Fire is deep, dark, and deliciously danceable.

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