Sunday, April 18, 2021

Review: Californian Soil • London Grammar


Atop a floating pyre as a deep blue storm looms behind her, Hannah Reid of English trio London Grammar doesn’t channel the American West Coast with the same intentions as most: “I left my soul on Californian soil, and I left my pride with that woman by my side,” she opens with the title track of their third record, Californian Soil. Tattered visions of America are projected to flip idealism on its head: While the band sought the truth on their last release, Reid uses this one to reflect upon having found it. In addition to purging unhealthy relationships and kindling love for others and herself, she explores the misogynistic consequences attached to navigating the industry and demanding autonomy at the helm of a music career.

Restoring house influences to London Grammar’s otherwise somber pop music, Californian Soil masters everything the band’s previous record, while a fantastic effort in its own right, managed to circumvent. The band shoots subtle electronic cacophonies over dark, distant acoustics, which cultivates a moody environment that transcends each genre they sample. Digital sparklers illuminate the midnight background in tight, white hot streams: The clanging samples on “Baby It’s You,” for one, lighten its longing. “Missing” is as much a haunting campfire song as a downscaled dance song stripped of its adornments. Elsewhere, the snappy junglebeat loop and deep bass bedrock in “I Need the Night” intensify its mysterious darkness: “Take all your limbs and wrap them ‘round your neck, so they all laugh at your predicament,” Reid sings before retreating from her taxing profession and into the night.

With instrumentalists Dot Major and Dan Rothman, Reid creates a musical landscape to soften the blow that her stark lyrics and sturdy contralto can deliver, largely without relaxing into a sleepy mid-tempo territory. At the album’s halfway mark, the band’s uncharacteristically danceable pillar stands: “How does it feel now you’re alone? How does it feel to feel low?” Reid asks before “How Does It Feel” ignites with a strong bass groove in a celebratory role reversal. “Lose Your Head,” one of the record’s best, manages handclap syncopation beneath its story of manipulation. More often, though, the music crescendos with gradual pacing, allowing her melodies to marinate as the songs work their way to their climaxes. The band's impeccable sense of musical balance provides a picturesque landing spot for listeners to sit with London Grammar for a while: The view can be devastating yet so graceful.

Californian Soil is available now under Ministry of Sound.

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