Assume Form is bound to be known as James Blake’s love album, but these aren’t ballads meant to fill wedding party playlists. While they could be co-opted in such a fashion, these are less “love songs” and more “James Blake’s love songs.” Ever since his self-titled debut made him a star as both a vocalist and a producer nearly eight years ago, Blake has permanently seemed on the cusp of going for full-on pop stardom, but he’s been able to maintain intrigue and integrity in his sound. Blake has been revealing himself more, but he’s still got plenty of layers on. Sonically, Assume Form might be his most approachable album to date, but its emotions are anything but simple.

Centered around his devotion to his partner, the wonderfully talented Jameela Jamil, Assume Form is fraught with uncertainty and mental imbalance, a concept that’s not new to Blake’s music. After all, he spent all of one track on his debut reflecting on sibling estrangement. Love for Blake isn’t the cure-all that prompts the flushing of antidepressants and a state of unending deliriousness. Only ‘Can’t Believe The Way We Flow’ exudes pure romantic energy, with pixies of vocals fluttering about. Intimacy brings him closer to another person but also threatens to pull him apart. “When you touch me, I wonder what you would want with me,” he confesses on the opening title track. A spoken word excerpt from Rage Almighty deftly describes depression: “It feels like a thousand-pound weight holding your body down in a pool of water barely reaching your chin.” Such a sentiment might be familiar to anyone with even a baseline understanding of depression, but it establishes the thesis for the album: love can only help as much as you’re willing to help yourself.

Blake’s previous albums were great neither because of nor in spite of the lyrics. Historically, his words have been carefully chosen in a way that let him avoid faceplants but also hindered him from creating auditory imagery beyond what was rendered by his bass drops and swells of synths. While Assume Form is handsomely produced, with captivating moments like the string arrangements on the title track and ‘Into the Red’, it’s arguably the most production has ever taken a backseat on a James Blake project. The closest thing there is to a ‘Limit To Your Love’-style drop or the synth hysteria of ‘Timeless’ is when the beat is propelled just a bit on the Metro Boomin-assisted ‘Tell Them’. It works quite well, but there’s nothing distinctly James Blakeian about it. This is the album where he’s most counting on you to listen to what he has to say, not wanting to risk distracting from his message with what could be heard as production parlor tricks. The only noticeable misstep is overuse of pitch-shifted vocals. They work well on the title track, which might remind witch house fans of another notable 2011 album, Balam Acab’s Wander/Wonder. Elsewhere, they’re a distracting crutch.

On paper, Blake’s lyrics might still read as fairly surface-level, but they’re still specific enough to feel like they’re the first time he’s prioritized his lyrics ahead of his production. Talking about he and Jamil deciding between living in New York and L.A. on ‘I’ll Come Too’ doesn’t turn his lyricism on its head, but in the context of the surrounding themes, it means quite a bit. On ‘Don’t Miss It’, he speeds up his vocals a bit, talking about ways he could surrender to his anxiety, and throws our beloved publication some accidental shade (“I could avoid The 405”). He also presents himself as a supportive partner on closing track ‘Lullaby For My Insomniac’, where he asserts that not being able to sleep is no personal shortcoming. He also succeeds by avoiding false modesty that could make an already-earnest artist a paragon of absolute starchiness. “Have you ever co-existed so easily?/ Let’s go home and talk shit about everyone/ Let’s go home, finally,” he sings with an ascending falsetto in the chorus to ‘Power On’.

Blake also solidifies his reputation as an in-demand hip-hop/R&B collaborator, with the Travis Scott-featuring ‘Mile High’ (also produced by Metro Boomin), continuing the psychedelic trap of Astroworld, and Blake’s vocals on the closing verse sounding uncannily like Scott’s. How much of that was an accident is debatable. On ‘Tell Em’, Moses Sumney’s status as a possible Cee Lo Green successor has never been more apparent. But if there’s going to be one feature that draws the most attention by far (With apologies to Rosalía, who gives ‘Barefoot In The Park’ an irresistible glow), it’s André 3000 on ‘Where’s The Catch’. As much as I wish I could say that everything about this song comes together, including André’s verse, it just doesn’t. It’s a lot of great ideas colliding together to be less than the sum of their parts because they don’t get a chance to develop. André does what he can, but his best judgment isn’t on display here, with lines like “Be chamomile, calamine lotion/ Camel motion, humpin' on the flo'” and literally hissing after rapping “A burden in beautiful times, a garden snake.”

What becomes of Blake’s career from here remains to be seen. The progression from post-dubstep producer to balladeer has been easy to trace, but not in a completely predictable fashion, because he’s opened his sound without sanding his edges. Previously, it seemed Blake would be wrestling with whether he needed more to appease his experimental or his straightforward pop leanings. Assume Form allows him to call a temporary stalemate to that internal battle, and focus more on appeasing himself and those he really cares about.