Nottingham’s soul-dance trio return after a three-year absence, with a sophomore album again oozing in their trademark blend of atmosphere and heartfelt emotion
Having already scooped Ivor Novello awards and performed on global platforms including Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’ whilst touring debut album ‘If You Wait’, London Grammar’s sophomore album had a lot of expectations riding on it. Some questioned whether – particularly after taking a longer post-debut break than so-called ‘flavour of the month’ indie bands would usually allow themselves to – the trio’s return could ever replicate the waves of that 2014 launchpad: not just critically but commercially, with it having sold millions of copies worldwide, and even managing to catch the attention of then-Prime Minister David Cameron. But such naysayers needn’t have doubted them. Right from the moment vocalist Hannah Reid appears seconds into hauntingly gripping opener ‘Rooting For You’, it is clear that the threesome have no intention of abandoning the gorgeous combination of atmospherics and heart-ridden emotion which saw ‘If You Wait’ so soar. A gentle piano accompaniment giving way to softly-trickled guitars with perfect timing, this reintroduction – and reintroduction it was, being released without warning on New Year’s Day – sets the scene, the perfect blend of at once both enough intimacy to turn your head and enough power to grab your goosepimple-spectrum and never relent.
And it continues. First proper single ‘Big Picture’ builds into an epic break-up anthem with an impact today’s usual chart-botherers could only dream of, again managing to strike a perfect balance between taking relatability to a tear-inducing level and flirting with the idea of glimpsing the confidential memories and thought processes deep within Reid’s soul. ‘Wild Eyed’ follows as a largely-forgettable interlude, perhaps tactically timed ahead of the album’s highlight. ‘Oh Woman, Oh Man’ is a sensational, cinematic piece – not just a rare example in modern music of a pop song which perfects the use of brush sticks on a drum kit, but a perfect combination of every concept in both writing and production which stands this band out from their contemporaries. 4:37 is not long enough, frankly, and it’s destined to be a live highlight for the rest of the Grammar’s existence. So too ‘Hell To The Liars’, a six-minute epic which you can already see provoking delirium both on stage and off.
If there was one valid criticism of this album it lies in how it could do with a little more variety, but that isn’t to say every song is a piano-based warble-thon. ‘Non Believer’ is a deep-throated, bass-heavy banger which somehow twists and turns itself into peaking with sumptuous auto-tuned harmonies reminiscent of Bon Iver’s best work; ‘Everyone Else’, one of the minority of tracks here on which ‘friend of every star ever’ Paul Epworth isn’t given a production credit, introduces itself with a funky experimentation with acoustic string instruments. Ultimately, though, this follow-up shines brightest where the focus is unrelentingly on Reid’s vocals: and indeed the conclusion of the standard edition, the album’s title track, leaves you in no doubt about this. Another piano ballad, certainly, but one given enough atmosphere and development as to leave you fairly quivering.
Best things here: Big Picture, Oh Woman Oh Man, Non Believer
Worth a listen: Rooting For You, Hell To The Liars, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing
You could be forgiven for not returning to: Wild Eyed, Who Am I