The RX is Uproxx Music’s stamp of approval for the best albums, songs, and music stories throughout the year. Inclusion in this category is the highest distinction we can bestow, and signals the most important music being released throughout the year. The RX is the music you need, right now.
Remember post-dubstep? That was the tag on James Blake when he emerged in the early part of this decade, combining plaintive piano ballads with oppressive bass, resulting in a sound that was instantly his own. At the time, Blake thought of himself as part of the electronic scene, and found naysayers galore, most memorably Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, who infamously tweeted, “Will this decade be remembered as the dubstep meets pub singer years?” Spoiler alert: This decade will not be remembered that way, and even just eight years after these comments, the whole idea of James Blake’s emergence ruffling feathers feels like a time capsule dug up to reveal tattered baseball cards and old love letters. It’s not who we were, and it’s certainly not who we are.
No, James Blake has evolved past that easy distinction. In fact, he has evolved past all easy distinctions. Even last year, when Pitchfork wrote about Blake’s “sad boy” brand upon the release of “Don’t Miss It,” Blake took to social media to clap back, confronting the criticism of “sad boy” as “problematic and unhealthy,” while questioning the double standards that men are held to with regards to expressing their emotions. “Please don’t allow people who fear their own feelings to ever subliminally shame you out of getting anything off your chest, or identifying with music that helps you,” he wrote. “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.”
Less than a year later, even razor ads are supporting Blake’s stance. But interestingly, Blake’s fourth career album turns firmly away from the idea of sadness, without majorly altering the aesthetic that fans have come to expect. Blake’s Assume Form is still emotionally forthcoming, but those emotions are full of love and hope, thanks to his current romance with The Good Place‘s Jameela Jamil. And this isn’t just some super-couple gossip. Blake literally took to Twitter to say “you are the reason this album exists” to her, and she responded with a virtual bow. Anyone that follows Jamil on social media knows that the British actress is outspoken about body shaming and the media’s portrayal of women, to which Blake’s comments about mental health seem to find unity within progressive couple goals.
It’s fitting then that the first words on the album are “now I’m confiding,” with Blake quickly explaining that the album represents a change for him on the title track. “Gone through the motions my whole life / I hope this is the first day / That I connect motion to feeling” he continues on the song that is very much about the therapeutic value of being comfortable in your own skin and open about your innermost thoughts. And throughout it all, the “her” is there for support and inspiration, as essential as the air that is breathed or the water that is drunk. For Blake, love is another element that gives him life, and that allows him to fulfill his own potential.
To say that the same idea comes across musically would be misleading. Blake doesn’t have a dud in his catalog and has been consistently been great, so it’s not like a new way of looking at the world would suddenly shift him into a new realm of greatness. But where Blake is taking off is in his role as a collaborator. It’s been a new realm for Blake to really focus since his last effort, 2016’s The Color In Anything, and since around that time, has seen him with production, vocal, and/or songwriting credits on Beyonce’s Lemonade, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn., Jay-Z’s 4:44, and Travis Scott’s Astroworld, just to name a few. And Assume Form takes the idea of Blake working with others to inspired new places, using his vision as a jumping off point for his contemporaries to help him shine.