London Grammar: Californian Soil review
One downside of being the only female in a renowned indie band is the amount of preconceptions, stereotypes and unfair assumptions to dispel before the music is even considered.
Hannah Reid discovered this quite early in London Grammar’s career. Around the time of the trio’s 2013 debut If You Wait, she found herself at the centre of a Twitterstorm when the official BBC Radio 1 account, apropos of nothing, tweeted: “We all think that the girl from @londongrammar is fit. Let us know if you agree.” Up until now, Reid hasn’t addressed the many micro-aggressions that women in the music industry regularly have to contend with, but London Grammar’s third album subtly illustrates her feelings on the matter.
The title track in particular recounts her experience as a woman entangled in the fame game. I Need the Night plumbs a similarly lost-at-sea line as Reid sings about literally tying herself in knots to please the misogynistic industry. America contends with the band’s efforts to break that territory and the futility of fame, while Lord It’s a Feeling documents a friend’s toxic relationship and addresses the guilty party with cutting accusations: “I saw the way you laughed behind her back when you f**ked somebody else”. This time, it appears, it’s very personal indeed.
Reid’s voice has always been the most striking element of London Grammar’s sound, and it remains as marvellous as ever here. Comparisons to Florence Welch remain hard to shake, yet that histrionic power is tempered by different textures throughout. On the title track, there is an almost folky lilt to her vocal that recalls Beth Orton; on the strummed, solemn closer America are traces of Marina Diamandis.
The lush orchestration that was audible throughout their previous album rears its head from time to time on Californian Soil; a bouquet of strings subtly unfurl in the background even on the icy-cool pop tracks with electronic currents that echo bands such as The xx (Californian Soil, How Does It Feel). The twitchy patter of Lord It’s a Feeling and the fuzzy club vibe of Baby It’s You elicit memories of standing arms aloft at a festival.
This is predominantly a dreamy, lush pop album with electronic elements, yet intoxicating tracks such as Missing – with its finger-snapping 1990s R&B undercurrent – uncover new layers with every listen.
Californian Soil may not have the same commercial thrust as their celebrated debut, but three albums in, London Grammar continue to make consistently interesting records.