Review by Ed King
I’m a sucker for piano led vocals. So, on hearing London Grammar’s first signed single release, ‘Wasting All My Young Years’, my AmosMcLachlan metre went straight into the red. Like it or loathe it I had to know it; and thank god for SoundCloud.
Formed whilst at Nottingham University, London Grammar are vocalist Hannah Reid, guitarist Dan Rothman and the multi-faceted Dot Major. This I knew, but after an initial rush of blood I decided to wait for more music before making any definitive statements about the electro rooted three piece.
The worlds of ‘stripped back’ and ‘melancholic’ can be tremulous places, and I can be too quick to judge something without exploring the cracks, especially from new bands. This, in turn, leaves me over critical about any distress lines I later find; and occasionally red faced after exulting too early. And after all, I once bought a copy of Inside In/Inside Out.
So with an album in offing, I resigned myself to a summer of their Metal & Dust EP (plus remixes) and a judgement in reserve.
That was June, it’s now September, and London Grammar’s debut LP is finally ready to kiss, marry or kill; as the appropriately titled If You Wait went on general release today.
Opening with ‘Hey Now’, one of London Grammar’s initial online releases that got them noticed and signed up, the slow piano riff and plucked guitar strings set a familiar yet reassuring pace.
For about 15 seconds I know where I am, then Reid’s vocals saunter through an echo effect and drum roll. Soft, deep, precariously precocious – I’m not sure. And I’m reminded of the ‘Femme Fatale’ see-saw, with Lou Reed’s vocals on one end and Nico’s on the other, and a question of delivery I’ve never been able to answer. But by 1min 20secs I’ve stopped thinking. There’s something too endearing and complimentary about the whole.
Fading out on Reid’s vocals, I consider pressing repeat – before the foreboding initial skies of ‘Stay Awake’ clear to a slide guitar and fast high hat. And before I realise this is the first new material I’ve heard from London Grammar, we’re back into the simple soft keys, plucked guitar and vocal intro of ‘Shyer’.
‘Wasting My Young Years’ follows, standing up to its new neighbours with confident sequencing, before a slight key change introduces ‘Sights’; with Reid’s vocals travelling up and down her mysterious register, as the boys behind the curtain building a mournful dénouement.
The rest of If You Wait follows a seemingly inherent formula; sparse intros of vocals, keys and string – building to ebbs and flows of melody and production, ending in an almost clandestine crescendo.
There is ‘a sound’, but unlike some contemporaries in this genre London Grammar seem focused on songs too. And when Reid’s vocals are given a somewhat freer rein, as in the penultimate ‘Flicker’, they show much more than just stage school potential. I kind of want to hear her sing at something.
If You Wait is an accomplished debut album, one that will remain on repeat a while longer at Casa King; 11 tracks that set out a very promising stall.
The danger London Grammar face will be in comparison; to which I have one word. Drums.
Another threat could be some canny music exec trying to focus on one aspect over another, when it’s the synergy of vocals and production that will carve them a sustainable corner. I’m already interested to see what Reid, Rothman and Major come up with next, provided it’s Reid, Rothman and Major.
I’d also like to see them perform live, and on Oct 23rd Birmingham Review will hopefully get a chance to do so when London Grammar play the Birmingham O2 Academy.
Until then I’m keeping my mouth shut. I’ve probably already said too much already.
London Grammar’s debut album, If You Wait, is out on general release today – Sept 9th.
For more on London Grammar, including digital downloads and gig listings, visit http://www.londongrammar.com
London Grammar play the Birmingham O2 Academy on Oct 23rd. For more on this and other gigs at the O2 Academy, visit http://www.o2academybirmingham.co.uk/