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April, 16

London Grammar on Californian Soil? Same lush pop, but with a fresh political edge

London Grammar on Californian Soil? Same lush pop, but with a fresh political edge

Hannah Reid drops the F-bomb on London Grammar’s hypnotically compelling third album, Californian Soil. I’m sure that, by now, we’re all used to swearing in pop music, but there can still be something explosive about a bit of brutal Anglo-Saxon in the right context. And frankly you don’t expect it from London Grammar, an electronic trio whose music has the gently ethereal air of the more polite side of trip-hop; they sound as though Dido threw a chill-out party with Morcheeba and only allowed Massive Attack to come if they left their dirty boots at the door.

The offending term arrives on Lord It’s a Feeling, amid a cinematic swirl of sonorously melancholic synths, as Reid’s refined contralto glides through the melodic gears with an almost glacially smooth tone, offering taut lyrical observations of a man’s thoughtless behaviour towards his partner: “I saw the way you laughed behind your back when you f----d somebody else.” Her uncompromising language breaks through the rippling musical surface like a shark’s fin: it’s a sign of something dangerous looming beneath. The song builds with ominous synths before breaking into the release of a shining dance-floor groove, and dissipating in waves of melody and emotion. It has a soft power that leaves you shaking.

Formed in 2009, London Grammar have effortlessly ascended to the status of a major band while making the kind of music that wouldn’t disturb the conversation at a dinner party. They’ve never had a hit single, but their 2013 debut album, If You Wait, reached number two in the UK, then its 2017 follow-up, Truth is a Beautiful Thing, hit number one.

But behind the scenes, all was not as smooth as the band’s lushly atmospheric soundtracks suggested. In some frank recent interviews, Reid, their frontwoman and principal songwriter, has been unequivocal about the insidious sexism in the music industry that brought her to the verge of quitting. Instead, with the support of multi-instrumentalist band mates Dan Rothman and Dominic “Dot” Major, she focused her anger, and has brought some extra bite to London Grammar’s placid pop.

The result is not exactly punk rock, but the band have certainly added an edge to their cinematically detailed productions. With its spindly guitar and folky melody, the title track of Californian Soil has a hypnotic flow, reminiscent of Massive Attack’s wondrous 1998 hit Teardrop, as Reid interrogates the American Dream as a metaphor for showbusiness desire. She returns to this theme on the closing track, America, a song about “chasing a dream that meant nothing to me”. Missing is a haunting paean to vulnerable stars who have lost their way to drink and drugs, while the gorgeous Baby It’s You and Call Your Friends find sanctuary in a love that allows Reid to be her truest self.

The only problem I foresee is that, in retreat from the glare of stardom, London Grammar have come up with an album almost certain to bring them more of it. Sometimes it really is the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

 

Source: msn.com
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