London Grammar has created a seemingly timeless and atmospheric record.
Slow-burning embers cast a glow over Truth is a Beautiful Thing when “Rooting for You” begins the second studio album by British trio London Grammar. The melody weaves and winds like smoke in the air around Hannah Reid. She is rare among modern indie female vocalists for range, a beautiful sound and, perhaps most importantly, her notable restraint from the standard “indie singer voice” that’s become a staple and a crutch among indie female vocalists trying to differentiate themselves, paradoxically by sounding the same. Here we have something refreshingly authentic, honest and straightforward.
Reid’s voice soars above dub-influenced percussion and gentle keys. “Wild Eyed” is passionate and given every ounce of performance attention such an emotional song deserves. “Oh Woman Oh Man” similarly feels like it was recorded only moments after the sentiments were originally felt — taking full advantage of the sting of emotional wounds.
Though the band is commonly referred to as dream pop, they are probably more accurately described as a mainstream answer to Portishead or a stretched out and intensely focused reinterpretation of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” Every note of “Hell to the Liars” smolders with regret as we hear, “Hell to the rest of us/ Here’s to the things you love.” Dominic “Dot” Major’s subtle percussion shimmers somewhere between lo-if electronica and organic hand drum rhythms, but it all seems incredibly understated, setting a foundation for the vocal fireworks. “Everyone Else” is a perfect example of this balance. Even when she falls into the repetitive chorus of “Everyone else knows why/ Everyone else knows why/ Look what you’ve done,” the spark of guitar lick and marching drums barely surfaces but for the spaces in between. “Who Am I” makes the guitar a little bit more pronounced both on the introduction and later in the track. The label of dream pop would seem to require far more of a wall of noise than this album delivers. In fact, it’s quite the opposite — preferring to exist in exquisitely articulated clarity. There isn’t a trace of self-consciousness, contrived or otherwise, in the way Reid meanders through each melody.
Arguably stronger than their first, this record steps up the production, sound quality and delivers with 14 tracks on the release version—18 if you purchased the deluxe version. The deluxe version includes a demo version of “Rooting for You,” which has a bare and unfiltered vocal over a minimal electric guitar. Here, we really get to see both the vulnerability and the authenticity of Reid’s talent on full display. The extra tracks are extraneous and arguably unnecessary but interesting nonetheless. Also included among them is a cover of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” recorded live at the BBC Maida Vale. Unlike The Verve’s original hopeful and bright version, this one seems far darker, almost a parody of the original. Again, not particularly necessary, but this is 2017 and such is the state of music sales.
2013’s If You Wait was a platinum selling record that was met with critical acclaim and set the band up for the almost inevitable sophomore slump. It doesn’t seem to have occurred on Truth is a Beautiful Thing, and as a result, the trio has created a seemingly timeless and atmospheric record, which is itself a beautiful thing.