London Grammar are back with their third album since their explosive release onto the scene in 2013. With a formula much unchanged, how will the signature sound of the three-piece hold up?
Let me start this review with a disclaimer. I am going to try and be as objective as possible during this review – but I have loved London Grammar since their inception, and that MAY colour my opinions – as the haunting vocal melodies and stunning minimal, yet orchestral soundscapes are some of my favourite musical pieces, period.
Upon pressing play, I’m literally greeted with the above, in Intro. Hannah Reid’s choral vocals warm-up over a crescendo of strings, powerful, lyricless – simple melodies interweaving before leading into the poppier title track – California Soil.
In recent interviews, Reid has spoken out of the rampant sexism within her sphere of the entertainment industry. Lyrics across the album reflect her feelings and own lived experiences. The title track alone carries anger with lyrics like “But I never had a name, and I never felt the same – I am young, I am old, so I do what I’m told”. The same drifting, gliding tones and pulsing bassline carries the track along with the same pace as so many of their previous hits.
With a slight lean into more ‘modern’ pop, ‘Lose Your Head’ signposts how London Grammar don’t need to alter their method much. Reid’s haunting vocals still hold the body of the song together – but it’s clearly a collaborative approach, rather than Reid and co. Dominic “Dot” Major as pianist, djembe, drums and Dan Rothman as guitarist have clearly evolved their approach over the years as well, with the same tonality existing despite their evolution in technique and sound.
With more trip-hop beats and a few extra effects, tracks like ‘Lose Your Head’ and ‘Baby It’s You’ feel more expansive and ethereal than even tracks like The Truth is a Beautiful Thing from their previous works.
There’s some gorgeous use of EDM as well on ‘Lord It’s A Feeling’ – with some plunging bass lows to really make use of speakers and subwoofers within the contralto vocals and with the mids being held together by the guitar of all things. It’s one of the most emotive songs on the album – along with the similarly electronic How Does It Feel? which follows immediately after.
Despite it’s more upbeat lyrics, synthy vocal samples and punchier bass and Niles Rodgers-esque guitar hooks, the lyrics are as impassioned and as filled with anger. This rage which comes across some tracks never punctures the sound that the trio have created however. Lyrically, it is present and powerful, but doesn’t detract from the album or tone they’ve striven to create – and it’s all the stronger for it.
The album doesn’t quite hit a poor note – but there’s a couple of near missteps towards the end on ‘Talking’ and ‘America’ – whilst they’re by no means bad songs, they just don’t seem to have the same dedication and soul as the other eleven tracks.
On a selfish note, I was hoping for another track similar to Hey Now, which is still my litmus test for Hi-fi – if it gets hairs on the back of my neck to stand up, it passes. ‘Call Your Friends’ is this album’s answer to it, even if it doesn’t necessarily outdo it. But still – goosebumps.
Ultimately, being as critical as I can be on the album – it’s still an exceptional album, much like their previous two works. Long may it continue
Author: Steve, Chiswick store