Tag: Travis Scott

ALBUM REVIEW: James Blake – Assume Form

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James Blake – Assume Form 

There are certain acts who always create intrigue when they release new material and James Blake is most definitely one of those artists. Whilst the falsetto vocals, electronics and intriguing beats are omnipresent in his work, his growth as an artist has seen him span genres and become as popular in the hip hop world as he is within the indie crowd that originally supported him. In a remarkably understated and underground way, he’s become an essential part of twenty-first century music.

The Penguin has been a fan since 2011, but was hugely disappointed by 2016’s The Colour In Anything, which was overly long and lacking in substance for his aquatic tastes. [Although it should be noted he wasn’t alone in 2016 in producing overly long, unimpressive albums: I’m looking at you Frank Ocean].

Last month Blake released Assume Form, and it has been on pretty steady repeat here ever since. For anyone who has listened to the album, it’s apparent that this is a very different James Blake; he is in love and – largely – a happy chappy. From the opening title track, it’s obvious he can barely believe his luck “When you touch me, I wonder what you would want with me” and the piano and soaring strings mirror his wide-eyed wonder. It’s a little soppy and slightly meandering start, but it begins our journey into Blake’s psyche.

Assume Form has a number of collaborators that help to elevate the album. Mile High, featuring Travis Scott, benefits from some superb production with the tinkering beats always teasing the ear, and the two voices mesh together nicely. Tell Them, a tale of regret about one night stands, is possibly a little overdone on the production, but Moses Sumney’s voice really shines. Barefoot in the Park with ROSALIA has been well covered on the blog is simply exquisite and continues the story of love woven throughout the album.

But it’s the collaboration with Andre 3000 – Where’s the Catch – that most rewards repeat listen and really anchors the album. With its unsettling, murky piano and deep beat, it turns the positives of the album on their head and questions if this really is too good to be true. It’s a dark moment cleverly placed within the album. And in truth it slightly saves the album, because the preceding two tracks – Can’t Believe The Way We Flow and Are You In Love? – are clearly the weakest on the album. The former is full of scatters of sound that never settle, and lyrically loses both the subtlety and quality that succeed elsewhere.  With Are You In Love?,  the vulnerability is there, but it feels meandering and slightly unnecessary.

Power On also jars slightly; it’s hard to know if we should be delighted for the person singing and appreciate their evolution into love, or whether they remain quite selfish company. Last year’s release Don’t Miss It also makes an appearance, a song with admirable emotional honesty but lacking in musical quality.

But there are other musical highlights intertwinned. Into The Red feels like it has a baroque arrangement involved and brings the strings back to centre stage. It’s an incredibly moving track in which he acknowledges a debt much greater than – but certainly not excluding – money. I’ll Come Too feels like Blake has hijacked a touring musical and appropriated its biggest number for his own. There’s a classic melodious pop song in there, but Blake gives it his own spin. And Lullaby For My Insomniac gives an almost choral ending to the album.

Assume Form is an enjoyable journey for the listener, with a central theme and some exquisite moments of musical genius. There are a few duds in there as well, but they’re generally well masked by how the album evolves around its thematic core. On that note, your tolerance for the album will largely depend on how much you can cope with Blake’s new-found happiness. The Penguin is also slightly in love with his other half after recently getting into The Good Place, so is happy to forgive, but others may struggle given how open and on-point the lyrics are at points.

At 48 minutes the album still feels a little baggy – lose two songs and we could be talking about a masterpiece – but its probably Blake’s finest album to date and shows yet more evolution. If anything, the intrigue will be even higher when his next release comes out.

7.5/10 

This Week Playlist (5th Feb): 7 corking 2019 releases to light up your week

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Soccer Mommy – Be Seeing You

21 (!) year old Sophie Allison (aka Soccer Mommy) dug back into her archive last week by  releasing a demo of Blossom from her 2018 album Clean along with Be Seeing You, a b-side that was only previously available physically. I really like the fuzzy vocals and melancholic tone. It’s all very lo-fi but the melody will absolutely get stuck in your head.

Billie Eillish – bury a friend 

bury a friend is yet another winning track from this ridiculously talented young lady. With a pounding beat, creeping synths and distorted vocals, there’s a constant sense of menace and urgency. I cannot wait for the album.

Tarantina – Hunter

According to her website “TARANTINA is a self-taught singer, producer and videographer who creates dark polished pop within the confines of her home studio in Camden Town.” Hunter is certainly dark and it’s most definitely pop, but it’s also an incredibly assured track where everything feels essential. The drama and intrigue only grows with every listen.

Martha – Love Keeps Kicking 

Love keeps Kicking takes me back to the pop punk tracks that I dined out on in my teenage years. Simple effective melody? tick. Catchy chorus? tick. Fun guitar bits? tick. (if I were more computer savvy, I could probably have used a tick graphic, but no such luck). This is what summer should sound like, and if you aren’t humming and foot-tapping away on the second listen then there’s nothing I can do to help you. Martha are from Durham (although I swear the singer has a Scottish lilt) and have a new album out on the 5th April.

Vera Blue – All The Pretty Girls (Mahogany Sessions)

I’m a big fan of Vera Blue’s work and I really like this new and stripped back version of 2018 single All The Pretty Girls. It strips away all of the production from the original and leaves a delicate guitar and Vera’s luscious and vulnerable voice. In my humble opinion, it runs rings around the original.

ViVii – And Tragic

And Tragic has enough melodrama and tension to make Lana Del Ray cast jealous glances. At times it feels grandiose but then it dips out, like a fading dream. I really like the twin vocals and the guitar is a constant star, but by the end of the track you really have no idea where you’ve just been.

James Blake, Travis Scott, Metro Boomin – Mile High 

One of the highlight’s from Blake’s recent album Assume Form, Mile High is just a great blend of top notch beats, the silky smooth flow of Scott and Blake’s soaring falsetto.

Track of the Day: James Blake, ROSALIA – Barefoot In The Park

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James Blake, ROSALIA – Barefoot In The Park

On Friday James Blake’s latest album was released. Assume Form has jumped to the top of every hipster’s ‘must listen to’ lists and features a number of star collaborators, including Andre 3000, Travis Scott and Moses Sumney.

But it’s his duet with Catalan-born flamenco star ROSALIA that has truly won my heart.

There’s something magical about the track. It feels so enticing, but never quite real. You don’t want to move in case the spell is broken. Emotionally it first feels joyous, but there’s a lurking edge of darkness that creeps into the corner of your eye.

I have no idea what the Spanish lyrics say and I have no desire to know. This track is simply beautiful as it is right now, so please don’t break the spell.

 

Top 50 Songs of 2018 – 30 to 21

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  1. Bicep – Opal (Four Tet Remix)

Four Tet remixes aren’t generally known for simplifying records, but with Opal he’s given the track a more accessible beat and brought the melody front and centre. It sounds great and has had me bopping my head along for nine months now.

 

  1. Billie Marten – Mice

Yorkshire singer Billie Marten provided the year’s most beautifully aimless and introspective track. Mice fills the senses with countryside; it transports you to rural settings far away from towns and cities. It’s such an internal track, you can feel the frustration and lethargy in both the music and the vocals.

 

  1. Art School Girlfriend – Distance (Blank)

Art School Girlfriend’s Into The Blue Hour was one of my favourite EPs of the year and Distance (Blank) was the second track on the EP. Full of electronic rumblings, introspection and claustrophobia, Distance (Blank) is a hugely impressive outing from the singer from North Wales.

 

  1. Robyn – Missing U

What a comeback single. Missing U sounded instantly fresh and yet familiar, reminding everyone how good she really is. Somehow combining optimism with crushing sadness, Missing U merely whet the appetite for music fans around the world in anticipation for – in my opinion – was the album of the year.

 

  1. SG Lewis, AlunaGeorge – Hurting

A straight up banger dripping in lust from the Lewis and AlunaGeorge combination. “Hurting for your body,Hurting for your body and your soul, You really got me searching, Begging for a way to make me whole” Aluna Francis pines over the beautifully simple electronics.

 

  1. GoGo Penguin – Raven

The inclusion of GoGo Penguins necessitates me eating a bit of humble pie. I completely hated their 2014 v2.0 album, and was very surprised when George – who previously wrote for Astral Penguins – recommended their latest work to me. “The piano sounds like Sister Bliss” he said, and indeed it does. Raven borders on being a dance track, and has a beautiful mixture of space and urgency.

 

  1. Billie Eilish, Khalid – lovely

The somewhat ironically titled lovely combines two of the most brilliant and exciting voices in music right now. Full of sadness, despair and tenderness, the sparse production simply allows the two vocalists to sing their sad tale.

 

  1. Black Futures – Trance

Trance is an orgy of rage. Sounding something like the end of the world, the track feels relentless. Every time you get a brief respite from the onslaught of the guitars and drums, you know it isn’t going to last, so just enjoy the chaos. The last two minutes or so of this track are probably the best I’ve heard all year.

 

  1. ZAYN – Sour Diesel

Sour Diesel sounds like INXS. Sensual vocals, sparse drums and catchy hooks, it has all the hallmarks that made Michael Hutchence and co such massive superstars in the 1980s. Nothing any of the former One Direction boys have done has come close to the pop perfection that is Sour Diesel.

 

  1. Travis Scott – SICKO MODE

I was very underwhelmed by Astroworld, Scott’s hugely successful 2018 album, but there’s absolutely nothing on SICKO MODE that I don’t love. A three-part masterpiece, it’s a triumph of hip hop production and shows that the genre keeps finding ways to push itself to the forefront of music.