Review Summary: Playing catch upTruth is a Beautiful Thing
was an unfortunate sophomore slump for London Grammar. While it’s a perfectly fine record on its own merits, it committed the unfortunate and unforgivable crime of diminishing the magic of the band’s debut full length. By putting forth a very similar, albeit less memorable record, Truth…
exposed the fact that the British indie outfit tend to function as little more than a perfectly competent, albeit somewhat shallow vehicle for Hannah Reid’s incredible vocals. Thankfully, Californian Soil
finds the other members playing catch up, resulting in their strongest outing yet, even if it occasionally misses the mark.
While the title track demarcates a somewhat dispiriting start to the record, offering four minutes so heavily inspired by Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ that Yellowcard would undoubtedly sue, there are much worse songs to semi-successfully imitate. More importantly, the derivative opener adds a delicate splash of colour to London Grammar’s palette; something the band manages to operationalise tastefully throughout the record. By positioning two of the band’s most daring and memorable songs right in the middle of the track list, Californian Soil
wraps its unexpectedly explosive moments in a comfortable blanket of cautiously experimental indie pop. This structuring does the album a world of favours: whereas previous outings had a tendency of petering out, the London Grammar of 2021 manages to keep listeners on the edge of their king size couches, calmly guiding songs in not-entirely-anticipated directions.
These two highlights, ‘How Does It Feel’ and ‘Baby It’s You’, are brimming with palpable energy. Induced by all members alike, the band find themselves in the middle of an unfamiliarly congested sonic playground, which they manage to embrace. Rather than letting her voice dwindle in gorgeous placidity, Reid bounces off peppy beats and explores new ways to weave her angelic tones into the framework. The more agile atmospheres found in this middle section are a welcome change of pace, not merely for Californian Soil
, but for London Grammar in general. The path to these two verified bangers
is a bit bumpy, if not consistently pleasant. ‘Missing’ and ‘Lord It’s A Feeling’ carefully tread around their respective neo soul and trip hop inclinations, seemingly apprehensive to properly dig in, resulting in somewhat superficially catchy numbers that could have benefitted from more indulgence and experimentation.
Thankfully, the closing portion of the record is more rewarding. ‘Call Your Friends’ feels like a successful update of the classic London Grammar sound, interpolating their newfound love for calmly glitchy aesthetics with the laid-back, dream-like pop of previous releases. Even more impressively, ‘I Need The Night’ presents a genuinely uplifting drinking anthem that won’t leave you feeling hungover, in spite of its lyrical clumsiness. Such potential issues are best exemplified on the wistful ‘America’; while Reid’s twisting of phrases may be a bit of an acquired taste, none of the lyrics on Californian Soil
are poorly written or uninteresting per se. The aforementioned closing track touches upon the album’s main theme of fame’s hardships one last time, wrapping such struggles in vaguely appealing Bono-isms: “all of our time chasing America / But she never had a home for me / All of our time chasing a dream / A dream that meant nothing to me
is an exciting new chapter for a consistently underachieving band. While showcasing some growing pains, the record presents a handful of gems in a satisfyingly structured package. London Grammar is undoubtedly capable of much more: with some refinements and the confidence to fully and tastefully embrace novel sonic textures, they could craft a truly outstanding record. Until then, this album is another highly engaging helping of Hannah Reid’s voice, and who would say no to that?