London Grammar’s third album ‘Californian Soil’ marks several shifts for the group. Sonically, it’s the most upbeat they’ve ever sounded, but it’s behind the scenes that the major change occurred, with vocalist Hannah Reid stepping up into a leadership position.
The indie-pop trio, made up of Reid and multi-instrumentalists Dot Major and Dan Rothman, first formed at Nottingham University in 2009. By the time they’d graduated and released their 2013 debut album ‘If You Wait’, they’d cemented their place as one of Britain’s buzziest bands. Global tours and awards nominations followed, and in 2017 their second album ‘Truth Is A Beautiful Thing’ flew to Number One.
Behind the scenes, though, things weren’t so picture-perfect. Throughout their time as a band, Reid had been enduring countless instances of music industry misogyny. There were the engineers who didn’t take her seriously, outfits she was pushed to wear, men she couldn’t show emotion around (lest she be considered “irrational”) and unsolicited comments about her appearance.
She was exhausted by the sexist microaggressions she’d had to put up with on a daily basis, and something had to give. As she told NME in a cover story earlier this year: “I did say to Dan and Dot, ‘I don’t want this to end, but something does have to change because I just can’t keep doing my best work or going out on the road if I’m going to come back and feel this way.’”
And so, as Reid stepped up into that leadership position, assuming responsibility for the band’s visual aesthetic, she also opened herself up more in her songwriting. While on previous release, 2017’s ‘Truth Is A Beautiful Thing’, Reid retreated behind the record’s gloomy instrumentals (“I wasn’t making myself very vulnerable and I didn’t feel like I was taking any risks,” she told NME), on ‘Californian Soil’ her lyricism is honest and direct.
The album sees Reid tackle toxic relationships (‘Lord It’s A Feeling’), break-ups (‘How Does It Feel’) and the death of the American dream (‘America’), fusing her searing honesty with romantic imagery.
Jubilant ‘Baby It’s You’, a festival-ready banger that depicts the euphoria of being in love, sees Reid sing: “All these colours in me / But all I see is you / Nothing else matters”. Later, she succinctly states, “You, baby it’s you”, Reid’s own feelings laid bare over the song’s soaring instrumentals. Trip-hop moment ‘I Need The Night’, meanwhile, tackles head on Reid’s experience of the music industry. “Take all your limbs and wrap them round your neck / So they all laugh at your predicament” she croons, depicting the countless instances of misogyny she’s experienced over her career, and how she then internalised these experiences.
This bold lyricism is coupled with lush and lively musical accompaniments. On ‘Californian Soil’, London Grammar have managed to distil the ecstasy that permeates the house-laced ending of the band’s 2013 single ‘Metal & Dust’, imbuing the album with this fizzing energy. This is particularly evident when the band are assisted by British electronic musician George Fitzgerald, who co-produced the jubilant ‘Baby It’s You’ and ‘Lose Your Head’ and brings buzzing late-night verve to the table. The slinky ‘Missing’, which meshes ‘00s R&B with ambient-pop, also sees the band’s ethereal soundscapes shaken up and coupled with slick electronic beats.
In comparison, the two tracks that bookend the record, ‘Californian Soil’ and ‘America’, embrace the more sedate moments of previous London Grammar releases. ‘Californian Soil’ is a steady, art rock cut, while ‘America’ channels Lana Del Rey’s spectacular ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’, Reid’s distinctive, powerhouse vocals performing gymnastics over stripped-back guitar twangs and dusky synths.
With Reid now stepping up as the band’s leader, London Grammar are revitalised. While previous album ‘Truth Is A Beautiful Thing’ was a sombre affair, a new energy saturates ‘Californian Soil’. Fizzing with club sounds and filled with bright lyricism, London Grammar are more confident, and more fun, than they’ve ever been.
Release date: April 16
Record label: Metal & Dust/Ministry of Sound