It’s been almost a decade since London Grammar made jaws drop with their debut album If You Wait. It arrived in a state of musical flux and didn’t quite fit into any of the day’s trends. In 2021, London Grammar remain proud outsiders in the pop world who continue to stick to their guns which serves them well on their dreamy new album, Californian Soil.
When you’ve got such a unique sound as the one London Grammar have carefully curated, then why would you tear up the rulebook and completely start afresh? The album has seen the trio slightly tweak their sound and embrace euphoric tones more than their previous two records. Sorrow is still never too hard to find on the record as Hannah Reid uses her vocals to display pain and heartfelt, honest emotion in a way that has always made London Grammar such an intriguing collective.
Reid’s classically trained vocals have always been the main attraction with London Grammar. Her expansive range isn’t your archetypal voice in the traditionally dulcet toned soaked arena of electronic, trip-hop infused music.
The juxtaposition between her vocals alongside bandmates Dom Major and Dan Rothman’s work has always been the most-attention grabbing facet to London Grammar. It’s the panoramic sound they create which keeps you as a listener enthralled and hanging on to Reid’s every last drawl.
Californian Soil kicks off in an eerily calming manner with the cinematic ‘Intro’, which stokes up an apocalyptic atmosphere before the titular track kicks in and their third record storms into fifth gear.
Reid shows a sincere level of honesty in her lyrics on the track, as she sings, “I am young, I am old, And so you do what you’re told, I never had a willing hand, And so you pack up all your bags, But I’m glad I’ve got you here, Well I’m glad I’ve got you here, But I never felt the same, And this life is just a game.”
Previously London Grammar opted to use instrumentals as their primary way of projecting themselves, with Reid, on occasion, hiding behind the production, but not on Californian Soil. There’s a coherency that runs through the record and all underpinned by Reid’s gripping vocals.
‘Lord, It’s A Feeling’ sees London Grammar show off the trip-hop side to their personality. On the track, they combine this with cutting lyrics as Reid devastatingly opens the track with the earnest lines, “I saw the way you made her feel, Like she should be somebody else, I saw the way she tried to hold you, When your heart was just a shell.”
London Grammar has traditionally been as sombre as a crisp January evening in England from a sonic perspective. However, on Californian Soil, they venture into more upbeat territory on the unapologetically poppy, ‘How Does It Feel’, the tempestuous ‘Lose Your Head’ and on the pulsating, ‘Missing’. There are moments throughout the album where it does leisurely meander at its own pace, like on ‘All My Love’, which sees the trio drop off their energy levels, but overall it’s a success.
The trio leaves the best till last, as the album closes with the slow-burning ‘America’, which delivers the most shattering moment on the record, which is unequivocally London Grammar and couldn’t be delivered by anyone else as emphatically. Be sure to have a pack of Kleenex at the ready to wipe your eyes during the last verse, when Reid sings, “And all the parties they fade, And yes, my looks, they’ll go away, I’ll just be left here in America, But she never had a home for me.”
Californian Soil lives up to the billing that London Grammar have created for themselves. While there is a slight progression on their sound, the lyrics make the record come alive and provide the trio with their furthest leap forward.