With their 2013 debut 'If You Wait', and its 2017 number one follow-up, London Grammar established themselves as both ethereal indie darlings and mainstream pop royalty. It’s a duality that’s seen the trio equally at home on UK festival stages, as they were the stereos of Balearic beach bars.
Indeed, with such success one might assume comes a certain level of respect. For frontwoman Hannah Reid however, it came with being undervalued by the wider industry, and the assumption that ‘the boys’ must deal with everything.
'Californian Soil', the band’s third album, is a direct response to this. Where previously Reid had taken centre stage as the band’s vocalist, here she’s the record’s muse as well, with the album’s narrative that of the “lived experiences of a woman”, and in particular, hers. And it couldn’t feel like a timelier release.
Arriving in post-Me Too climate and coming at a time when women’s safety has rightly been all over the news and social media, 'Californian Soil' is a salient record certainly. But it’s also an exquisite one. Strengthened by her newfound position and confidence, Reid is at most striking, her ability to veer between fragile melancholy and bold buoyancy never as strong as it is here.
The eponymous opening number ‘Californian Soil’ establishes the tone of the record instantly; its brooding trip-hop aesthetic the perfect backdrop to Reid’s haunting delivery. Elsewhere, more Balearic influences are evident, with previous single, ‘Lose Your Head’ feeling at home on the soundtrack to The Beach, while ‘How Does It Feel’ could teach Ellie Goulding a thing about how to write a pop single.
This decision to make their pop influences more evident falls to Reid, who’s always had an interest in the genre. Unsurprisingly, it works, adding another layer to their already three-dimensional brand of alternative pop.
“It is,” says Hannah “a feminist record,” but you can forget whatever connotations that might have. Instead, it’s a record about Reid “gaining possession of my own life”. It’s also a record of sheer beauty and one that finds London Grammar at the absolute top of their game.
Words: Dave Beech
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