Review Summary: an entire string section to help numb the pain, please
For a record titled The Truth is a Beautiful Thing
, the latest from London Grammar rides in on a series of truths that are decidedly unbeautiful. “I’m so scared of loneliness with you”
, Hannah Reid admits from the outset; establishing the stakes as she floats over the top of minimal instrumentation in Rooting for You
. As a collective, the band handles all those ugly truths carefully. These songs wrap them up with neat little bows as if they could be souvenirs perched on the mantelpiece. With enough distance, they’ll probably become mementos – reminders of formative events, mistakes, lessons learned.
Reid’s vocals are a constantly rising thing, somewhere between bravado and complete vulnerability. She sings with a melancholic hindsight throughout this album, qualifying everything in the context of a slow-motion montage of flashbacks. Her lilt is this bleeding heart of a sound, and Truth
-- for the most part -- is an album of hollowed, wistful instrumentals; creating open spaces just to fill them with the soulful timbres of Reid’s voice. Of course, this is the dynamic that London Grammar have danced with ever since Hey Now
became the unassuming pillar of indie pop that it is, but the music is less subordinate here, more willing to leave the shadows and work alongside the headstrong melodies.
It begins quickly, too. Big Picture
stretches itself out across the night sky with a rolling drumbeat that is actually there
, and not just pretending to be. Wild Eyed
does the same because there is genuinely always something shuffling its feet in the background – an actual support network buried beneath the dreamy piano progression. In Oh Woman, Oh Man
, the chorus opens up into a choral chamber, and London Grammar sound bigger than they have before. And so on and so forth.
Another dichotomy: For a band considered ‘dream pop’, London Grammar make startlingly immediate music. After all, Non-Believer
could be sitting in the same room as you. It’s an open letter that you can actually read, not an open letter masked by abstract lyrics and interminable amounts of reverb. I think, really, that this is dream pop crafted by people who want to confront their problems rather than sleep through them. “Fair trials don’t exist my friend”
sings Reid in Leave That War with Me
. And it’s sincere – you have to take matters into your own hands. The music here is a quiet but firm voice of reason, very angel-on-the-shoulder in its unwavering, good-natured support; but also willing to take control like the string section does towards the end of Hell to the Liars
Hindsight - that beautiful, omniscient thing - confirms that the title is bitter irony spoken as a threat, or at least a promise of karma. It turns out, truth is only a beautiful thing once the wound it’s inflicted has long since healed over and the air encircling a heartbreak is clear to breathe again. The album itself, though? It moves Reid and the band to a more level playing field, emphasising the need for them to work with
each other and not around each other. Control
carries out Truth is a Beautiful Thing
with what sounds like self-defeatism: “And I guess that’s control / it’s knowing your place”
. I, however, like to think that lyric is Hannah Reid finally realising that there’s catharsis in the altruism of others. With enough help, perhaps she’ll be able to live how the most content people do: with the past, in the present, and for the future. In the meantime, though, those ugly truths are just waiting to become mementos.