Assume Form by James Blake: love songs from the cold. (Polydor) Hushed, expressive vocal performances have become increasingly key to James Blake’s art, just as his signature sound, his cold, sculptural minimalism, has become rote in the time of Drake. Assume Form, despite the handsome ghost-of-a-smile on the LP sleeve, doesn’t introduce a more colorful palette for Blake. A shame. The same wintry tones that dominated Overgrown (2013) and The Colour In Anything (2016) are all over this latest set, from a singer whose lyrics, at least, reflect the unexpected joys of love. Still, Blake is no stranger to spinning beauty out of the frigidness of his comfort zone and Assume Form is at its best, unsurprisingly, when he works at the periphery of his formulae. One pivotal moment, “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow”, is a watershed for Blake. A love song on the order of Tame Impala’s “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”. Elsewhere, Form’s featured guests—especially André 3000 and Rosalía, on “Where’s the Catch” and “Barefoot in the Park”, respectively—inject some color and personality into the album’s sometimes inclement atmosphere. It’s hard not to feel happy for Blake when he sings, “Have you ever coexisted so easily?/Let's go home and talk shit about everyone,” but once it’s clear that Blake’s rosier state of mind hasn’t translated to new figures and sounds, Assume Form disappoints. B
Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten: a bigger, bolder vision. (Jagjaguwar) A tale as old as Bob Dylan: the introspective, acoustic singer/songwriter discovers electronic instruments, expands their sound, alienates some old fans, gains some new ones. On her new album, Remind Me Tomorrow, Sharon Van Etten, who flirted with perfection on 2012’s Tramp, delivers much of what she’s delivered before, but with a sparkling new presentation. Synthesizers and drum machines are peppered throughout to approximate familiar synthpop and new wave patterns that bring to mind recent outings from Perfume Genius, St. Vincent, or Mitski. Other times, Van Etten’s arrangements take more wild forms (the appropriately alien-sounding “Jupiter 4”, for instance). Like with her close friends and touring partners, The National, iterative sonic progression wears well on Van Etten. Her instincts as a songwriter—one of the best of the decade, surely—have not been diminished or neglected in her pursuit of an expanded, sometimes experimental sound. These ten new songs, some of her best yet, brim with heart and wisdom. B PLUS
Outer Peace by Toro y Moi: seven albums in, exciting as ever. (Carpark) Rather than be engulfed by outside pressure, Chaz Bundick’s decided to push back against it on Outer Peace. “Opinions outweigh my doubts/Or maybe I just pay attention” he claims, on a track entitled “Law of the Universe” no less. His chillwave sensibilities remain, but they’re bolstered by more direct elements from the popular hip-hop and disco funk sounds of today. “Monte Carlo” and “New House” both showcase Bundick’s successful attempts at a rhythmic flow, one he supports with the hazy synths that adorn his prior material. On these tracks and others like “Freelance”, Bundick counters the ridiculous demands of the world (“Walk on the water for me”) by making ones of his own (“I want. . . something I can’t afford”). All of us crave escape from the horrors of this timeline, and Bundick’s crafted a way to escape it without entirely abandoning it altogether. For those of you living in a loud world and a louder mind, Outer Peace is here to let you know that you’re not alone, and that the first step towards peace is by demanding it. B —Mick Jacobs
Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? by Deerhunter: soft music for quiet times. (4AD) Certainly their best album since Halcyon Digest. Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? finds Deerhunter painting airbrush-soft landscapes for the subtle and quiet hours. But this is rhythmically agile music, thankfully. The songwriting is sturdy, too, even if it can sometimes feel like Bradford & friends are running on an autopilot setting set to David Bowie’s Low. It’s to their credit as craftsmen that it never rings hollow. B
Vampire Weekend’s new album is a double LP, new music coming next week, per a post from Ezra Koenig on Instagram.
Ariana Grande dropped off a new song/video, “7 Rings”, from her upcoming set, thank u, next.
Stream the new DAWN record, new breed, over at NPR at NPR.