Kieren Gallear’s second solo LP as Dels is one of those rarely heard, potential-fully-realised collections that can only emerge from a creative environment of comfort, surrounded by friends tight enough to feel like family.
Recorded predominantly beside previous collaborator Kwes, ‘Petals Have Fallen’ comes, like its predecessor, through Big Dada. The label has evidently allowed Gallear space and time enough to follow his ‘GOB’ debut of 2011 with a record worthy of ranking beside 2014 efforts from fellow Dada artists Kate Tempest and Young Fathers: a third vital volume from another unique voice calling out of Britain’s hip-hop scene.
The album begins with ‘Limbo’, and the lines: “I wear my heart on my sleeve, kidney in the tumbler / Drowning, I can’t breathe, don’t take me under.” The song thumps with ominous bass, a slow-motion curtain-up full of dread and uncertainty. It’s a bluff, though – as beautiful as the opener is, its melancholic mood is shattered by ‘Fall Apart’, and its rising tide of dramatic beats and dynamic wordplay.
‘Fall Apart’ is full of fighting talk, challenges to other MCs and to Dels himself – he speaks of “rhymes that will put you in a choke hold” and words that will penetrate, and it’s certainly an immediately striking cut, echelons above the achievements of ‘GOB’. ‘House Of Commons’ matches warm keyboard chords with electronic chirrups, a juxtaposition of might-be-jarring sounds that, in lesser hands, would be an absolute mess. Here, and throughout ‘Petals Have Fallen’, incongruous elements never sound out of place, with everything expertly measured.
And that careful balance carries over to Dels’ lyrics, too, where astuteness meets sincerity. Short on hollow braggadocio, he frequently refers to his family and those that have become like it – to a little sister and inspirational brothers on ‘Pulls’, featuring Kerry Leatham; to “tired soul” Mica Levi on the Rosie Lowe-starring ‘Burning Beaches’. He’s unafraid to seem soft on the inside, a rapper who parks the cussing and the curses to present more positive messages. “I’d rather spread love, that’s the energy,” he says on ‘Pulls’, and several songs touch upon real love rather than heartbeat-brief bunk-ups.
One of the most tender of these tracks is ‘You Live In My Head’, a song about the rapper’s uncle (as he told us, here), but full of lines to affect the everyman. The title track, featuring Tirzah, is transparent of emotions, and ‘Lost For Words’ is similarly love-struck – or, at least, that’s one interpretation based on some of the imagery. It might also be a meditation on loss: “Staring out the top window / Swear I saw you ride past… You’re in my heart / You’ll never leave it.”
This is something Dels does across ‘Petals Have Fallen’ – he keeps you guessing. Arrangements are warm and inviting, frequently, but his words carry bite and gain purchase with ease. He has his share of quirky couplets, making very British remarks about bowel movements and bland soup as metaphors – perhaps a knowing nod to the sometimes-odd observations of Big Dada legend Roots Manuva – and drops in references to Wu-Tang Clan and Star Wars, as easy with pop culture as he is conveying intimacies of the soul. Sometimes a multitude of worlds collide on a single song, but never does an arrangement come unstuck.
An album of consistent high quality and endearing personality, ‘Petals Have Fallen’ might have missed the deadline for a 2014 Mercury Prize nomination, but with ‘Dead’ and ‘Everybody Down’ making this year’s list, it’s worth popping a tenner on this exceptional LP matching their shortlist status in 2015.
Words: Mike Diver
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