Album Review: London Grammar – If You Wait

By Luke Hart

Though the Nottingham based trio lined up their first real recording in late 2012, it wasn’t until the collaboration with Disclosure on their single Help Me Lose My Mind that this band began to catch my eye. Hannah’s haunting vocals teemed with Dom and Dan’s minimalist yet, unprecedented ambience made this band stand out. Since June time, I’ve been hoping and wishing for the stream of EPs to finally emerge into a full length LP. This was realised with If You Wait.

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The album marks the first for the chill-trip-hop-lounge band with a corroboration of previously released and unreleased sounds such as their sombre Strong record and their 2012 first release Hey Now, which gets the ball rolling.

This song starts very sombre and from the beginning settles LG’s dulcet tones. The vocals initialise very soft and relaxing whilst the warm, fuzzy bass synth and gentle plucking of Dan’s guitar. The sombre sound is accompanied by the heavy yet still warming bass that follows the verse chord structure. This song has a staggered rhythm which features many off-beats on synthesised drums. This feels very modern and at the same time, there are crossovers. You can never really be sure what the key is and this is also represented in one of their most well-known releases Strong.

Opened by a simple guitar riff, this song has a very good melodic structure with offbeat repeats on the guitar and a catchy piano motif in the chorus. This song seems to be the flagship single as it showcases Hannah’s diverse vocal range excellently. The build-up to the chorus features a subtle bass progression which excellently follows the general softness of the track. Relaxed drumming teemed with the layering of ‘oohs’ that climax in this track also feel very smooth and relaxed.

These gentle guitar motifs complement the modern lounge sound that Dom’s drum sequences create with the ambient electronic sounds. Stay Awake showcases these methods tremendously as well, yet the song doesn’t seem to progress.

Another stand out song off the album was of course the pre-released Wasting My Young Years which follows a slower but similar formula to Strong. However, the more intensely higher notes showcase the range of Hannah’s voice once more, with tonal ambiguities, a previously mentioned theme throughout this album. The key is never really certain, however never scarily dubious. The harmonies that Dom that provides throughout these songs, is also highlighted excellently in this song through the refrain ‘we are’ as he complements Hannah’s sweeping vocals. This harmonic support also brings me to one of my favourite components of the album altogether – its lyrical styles. This song actually brings subliminal messages that seem to epitomise relationship seriousness at young ages. Though the title shows this is obvious, the lyrics dance around the subject very tightly. Metal and Dust does this in a similar vein.

Metal and Dust has very similar melodic ideas with gradual progression of texture and stagnant chord sequences but the lyrics are very metaphorical. From my interpretation, a rusting house is just regarded as ‘metal and dust’ as if it were nothing, showing potential links with passive ignorance of problems in relationships. Further showing London Grammar’s modern adaptation of music the remixed lines of Hannah’s vocals throughout the backbone of the song sound very exciting, in contrast with the culmination of the track which leads into the Interlude with very thin textured lines; again, following in a pattern where this represents the remorse at the end of an argument. This could be interpreted consistently from the continuous nature of Metal and Dust to Interlude with no tonal changed either.

One of the biggest surprises of this album for me was the cover of Kavinsky’s Nightcall, immortalised by the film Drive. The original song features an 80s-style synth melody with 4-to-the-floor drum beats, iconically shown behind Ryan Gosling’s casual driving. Yet the band tackled these synthy-stylings with a beautiful piano rendition and eerie guitar drones which changed the mood of this song entirely. Some of the lowest singing in Hannah’s register is featured as this song begins to progress, with a tremolo-deep guitar sound. It was at this point through the record I had an epiphany about If You Wait, though controversial.

Listening to Shyer and Sights, felt like venturing through some of the other melodic key devices of Stay Awake and Hey Now. However Flickers felt very different. Noted for his use of ‘djembes’ a form of African drum, Dom and the group bring new life to this song and another layer to this album. The song contains good contrasts in tempo as well and a minute-long conclusion with improvised vocal passages and drum patterns.

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In my opinion, Help and Darling, Are You Gonna Leave Me sound very similar to the rest of the album, serving as platforms for Hannah’s voice. Therefore, in the deluxe edition of the album I am only going to look briefly at Help Me Lose My Mind. I’m going to say right away that this song is phenomenal and was the chief reason I researched London Grammar to start with. There are lots of accolades that should go to Hannah and the group for this song as well as the Disclosure brothers. Hannah’s voice in this song fits perfectly with the mesmerising house sound. It’s a perfect song to literally ‘lose my mind’ to. Whilst featuring electronic excerpts and disco influences, the haunting voice that runs throughout is just as potent in this single.

If You Wait feels like a slowed-down combination of Strong and Wasting My Young Years. Yet the desperate nature of the lyrics and the beautiful vocal lines, teemed with the growing sound of the strings, really sends shivers down your spine. This song lacks intense progression, however it justifies itself by containing wonderful layers of strings and the finishing section, with the suspensions and held whistling sounds are brilliant.

From listening to We’re All Here, various features of each song seem to be present in it, including the octaval singing between Hannah and Dom. Djembe sounds and gentle blues influences from Flickers can be heard as well.

The album If You Wait contains many diverse songs, with a running theme of chilled melodies and sculpting around Hannah’s iconic voice. Hannah’s voice itself sounds very similar to Florence from Florence and the Machine with the musical layering reminiscent of the XX.

            However with the exception of Nightcall, Hey Now, Strong, Flickers and Metal and Dust, this album has many overlaps in sound with their songs. Any of these songs could be released as singles and I have no doubt that anything that gets released to follow Nightcall and Hey Now will do explicably well. After all, I have listed 5 songs from 14 as being very strong. The lack of progression also bugs me, however the epiphany I described earlier: London Grammar are a fantastic group; but if you look back at their history, this album is a collaboration of EPs as well as some new songs that sounds very similar with drops in similar places and similar uses of similar guitar patterns and haven’t I just overused ‘similar’ – well it’s true.

My final comments would be: band – phenomenal; songs – uniquely defined; album – at a wider glance, very samey. But this isn’t going to stop me listening to it as it’s very easy-listening. In all honesty however, all that’s going through my head is ‘can’t wait to see what the second DEVELOPED album sounds like.’ I thoroughly recommend this album and if you enjoy modern music and bands taking a definitive stride to make easy-lounge style indie music that actually works on paramount levels with house, electronic and other popularised genre, you will love this. But this isn’t an album that can be listened to over and over, without becoming boring. As long as you heed that in mind, you can’t go far wrong with If You Wait.

 

Stand-out tracks: Nightcall, Strong, Hey Now, Metal and Dust, potentially Flickers

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