‘Assume Form’ shapes the rise of a new pop star: James Blake

Travis Scott’s Astroworld turns from hip-hop funhouse to transcendent hymn halfway through its fifth track, “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD.” The mellow beat falls away, a gospel organ floats out of the dark, and a fragile, angelic voice warbles like a sermon over the track. Who is he? murmurs the audience, tapping away at their phones to find the featured artist. Someone called James Blake…

Riding this wave of visibility, James Blake has released an R&B record that capitalizes beautifully on his talents. His gentle falsetto and elegant drum machines anchor the record, taking slight experimental turns that propel the album forward without stepping into bizarre arthouse territory.

The balance between soulful and catchiness is best struck on ROSALÍA-featuring “Barefoot In The Park,” which sounds like the gentler cousin of “No Tears Left to Cry.” The title track and “I’ll Come Too” are pure beauty, and “Where’s The Catch,” decked out with a great André 300 feature, stands as Blake’s most successful hip-hop experiment yet.

Though not quite reaching the heights of his previous albums, “Assume Form” offers an excellent entry point for those new to James Blake. Blake is certainly tiptoeing away from his experimental roots into the sphere of pop music. On “Assume Form,” the movement is graceful, and Blake loses little along the way.