Review Summary: "Maybe I'm wasting my young years..."
The mainstream-hype-machine often produces so many clichéd and unoriginal artists and bands that one tends to lose faith in contemporary music as a whole. This year has seen acts such as Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Calvin Harris and Icona Pop (amongst many others) perhaps undeservedly take a lot of the limelight, blurring the lines between what is genuine talent and what is just a desperate attempt at reaching colossal levels of stardom. So it is no surprise that Nottingham-based band London Grammar have not quite matched their mainstream counterparts, commercially speaking.
Critically speaking though, their debut album ‘If You Wait’ has been a hit, and from the start, it is evident to see why this album is getting a substantial amount of hype. A unique album, at least within mainstream boundaries, London Grammar are best described as a concoction of the relaxed percussion of Portishead, the dark and brooding atmosphere of Lana Del Ray and the beautifully strong vocals of Florence and the Machine.
In fact, it is these vocals that perhaps make If You Wait what it is. Vocalist Hannah Reid laments about subjects such as past relationships, troubled teenage years, and perhaps trying to grow up too quickly. Although singing about such matters has become fairly standard, perhaps to the point of stagnation, Reid’s wide range and overall-strong vocals make such musings seem genuine. She makes sure the listener can feel her pain. She makes sure that the listener can empathise with her.
The lyrics themselves are very mature for a girl of such youth, and avoid being clichéd, despite the naturally clichéd nature of the subject itself. For example, from the song ‘Wasting My Young Years’:
“You crossed this line,
Do you find it hard to sit with me tonight?
I've walked these miles but I've walked 'em straight-lined,
You'll never know what was like to be fine…”
The lyrics seem to represent a young lady who is looking back with sorrow at a past-relationship, and such relateable and harrowing lamentations are dealt with in a mature and almost poetic manner.
Instrumentally, the album seems to draw inspiration from trip-hop acts such as Portishead and Massive Attack, which is perhaps most obviously seen in the song ‘Stay Awake’. Percussion is simple and relaxed, used to create a laid-back beat, while keyboards are used to create ethereal and often minimalistic soundscapes. Guitars and pianos are also used sparingly to add a dream-like atmosphere, and blend perfectly with Reid’s haunting vocals. The atmosphere can also tend to be dark and brooding, such as in the song ‘Hey Now’ (which, incidentally, happens to have one of Reid’s best vocal performances).
Perhaps a weak point of If You Wait is that it is not a solidly consistent album, tending to perhaps stray away from the quality shown in the first half of the album. In particular, songs such as ‘Metal and Dust’ and ‘Flickers’ almost scream ‘filler’ at the listener, and seem to ruin the momentum of the record. Without these tracks (and possibly a few others), this album could quite simply have been so much more concise and consistent.
Despite this though, If You Wait is beautiful in every sense of the word. Sonically ethereal, emotionally draining and lyrically harrowing, this young band brings something new to the table. Forget superficial and shallow lyrics about drugs, sex and partying. Forget a heavy overuse of synthesisers and excess amounts of bass drops. London Grammar are not about that. Instead, they have chosen to release a genuine and candid record in If You Wait, bringing a fresh approach to contemporary music in general, which should set them up for a long and illustrious career.