London Grammar, ‘If You Wait’ – Album Review
London Grammar have released their first single, EP and now full-length in the span of nine months. The guitar-and-keys art-rock trio formed much earlier, back in 2009 at Nottingham University in Northern England, but it wasn’t until nearly three years later, in December of 2012, that they released their debut track, ‘Hey Now.’
They’ve since become one of the most closely watched U.K. pop outfits, following a trajectory similar to that of such fellow English breakouts as AlunaGeorge, Jessie Ware and Disclosure. London Grammar even lent their talents to the latter’s ‘Help Me Lose My Mind,’ the unforgettable closer from the duo’s recent debut, ‘Settle.’
But there’s something almost refreshingly anachronistic about London Grammar. Whereas their contemporaries are creating violent collisions of classic and future strands of dance music, London Grammar stick to the basics: sparse and subtle Talk Talk-esque arrangements featuring piano, guitar and strings, with just the right amount of electronic landscaping to remind us it’s 2013. It’s the kind of music that, were it not so grandiose, wouldn’t be out of place in an intimate wood-paneled coffee shop. Which is to say nothing of London Grammar’s secret weapon: Hannah Reid.
Reid’s hefty alto is equal parts power and subtlety. It can dig inward to the most private of places, but it just as easily soars. There’s a staggering depth of emotion, even in its quietest moments, and it’s never not commanding. London Grammar build almost every song around Reid, letting the unfussy arrangements accentuate rather than dictate. They dissipate in the wake of her vocals, letting her take the reigns on each track. In short: the more stripped down the song, the stronger it is.
But London Grammar can get relatively ornate at times. ‘Stay Awake’ layers some sonorous guitar chords and plinking piano notes over a lush bed of synths before a clanging drum loop slides into place. Reid sings longingly about lost souls and absent lovers, the breadth of her voice matching the expansive soundscape, before a hint of strings crops up near the edges of the track. ‘Sights’ reaches some colossal heights by its end, Reid pushing her voice into falsetto territory. And with ‘Nightcall,’ the group turns Kavinsky’s 2011 sleeper hit into a rousing, climatic anthem of emotional openness.
‘If You Wait’ is at its best, however, on tracks like ‘Strong,’ ‘Waiting My Young Years,’ ‘Interlude’ and the title track closer, which push Reid way out front while bandmates Dot Major and Dan Rothman build sounds like gathering storm clouds behind her. The aptly titled ‘Strong’ sounds like Reid lifting whole worlds above her head. ‘If You Wait’ is especially magical; with little more than some distant piano to accompany her, the singer just climbs and climbs, the wash of aching strings slowly seeping in around her.
With ‘If You Wait,’ London Grammar more than deliver upon the promise of their early singles, and there are plenty of surprises to be found here. It’s not an exaggeration to say ‘If You Wait’ is one of the most assured debuts of the year, and London Grammar have emerged as one of brightest outfits from this year’s crop of English newcomers.