London Grammar – California Soil: Review

Many indie/dream-pop artists evoke these glossy – sparkly – electronic overtones in the music, but London Grammar bleeds into the complexities behind their melancholy strings and minimalist percussion and electronic subtleties to build atmospheric overtures. This never falls into a repetitively basic tonal (poppy) trend, which makes them a unique presence in this “genre’s” stratosphere; however when it didn’t fully hit on their sophomore release, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, the experiences since then has allowed Hannah Reid, lead singer/songwriter, to reflect further and create these spacious and luminous – electronic-dream pop cohesion with the rest of London Grammar (i.e. the instrumentalists, outside of Hannah) on California Soil.

The new album by London Grammar switches up base constructs of simple production cues, with a mixture of piano and varying electronic sounds taking more centerstage, like the vibrant snares on “Lord It’s A Feeling.” As a whole it doesn’t rely much on an expansive synth base to overlay instrumentations. It’s what separates it from their last album, where a slight boredom arose from the lack of musical depth and engagement. But California Soil fixes that with the way it evokes its tonal and emotional notes in smooth transitions that the album rarely loses touch on what it is. 

London Grammar stylistic approach is similar to that of Beach House and Florence Welch, wherein the emphasis is put into the vocal delivery and parallel production. It is what drives the emotional force that has you feeling what she does, down to the core of her heart. And this is what makes California Soil such a profound deviation from the wrought sound from others; even though the deviation is more subtle than it appears. Part of that deviation comes from the way Hannah Reid flexes her vocal range on each song, which mirrors the tone behind the way she perceives each thematic inspiration, like on the title track, which centers around nature and landscape – comforting images with deeper meaning. 

A lot of these stories derive from the emotional complexities of the experiences and emotions had from them since the release of their last album. Like it, it has a constant motion with flipping pros and cons of relationships, mostly cons, and the overall emotional tear it can cause; for example on “All My Love,” a song in which Hannah Reid delivers this soft-spoken and powerful performance that sounds like a broken soul singing and playing guitar to herself in her room. But this is all part of a mixture of different sonic constructs that lets the little things pop out, like the minimalist – melancholic strings and percussion and spacey additions from the electronic instruments/effects. 

California Soil goes beyond the dream-pop textures. The electronic-instruments create a coating, which makes the music range in pop style, while staying consistent in tone. When it shifts into tracks that breathe an essence of a pop trend that evokes the kind of mood for those who like sad dancing. This style usually has a repetitive production pattern, specifically in the percussion, where most times it never feels like anything new. Their last album teetered on this consistently, that you try to stay with it for the vocal performances instead of the boring production that is a part of that trend.

California Soil doesn’t fully disregard this, but shifts the sonic construction to have an overall cohesion of sound behind the lyrics from Hannah Reid. These tracks with the sad dance-style have a solid constant that keeps them in a different spectrum from the ones who are vibrant and poppy for airplay. But instead these tracks become more nuanced like on “How Does It Feel,” where the upbeat portions aren’t trying to be glamorous through an overall happy-sad production approach. 

“Baby It’s You,” does so similarly, with an eloquent construction of instruments that keeps you engaged, except for the times it shifts into the chorus and her repetitively hollow lyrics become apparent, but the production makes up for it by keeping the flow interesting. This is the same essence behind “Lose Your Mind,” which has co-production from house musician George FitzGerald, to give it that soft-sparkly cover to the rest of the production. 

California Soil is adventurous, from a POV of the kind of sonic standard they have imparted on themselves, but doesn’t go off the beaten path to deliver a spread of obscurity. It’s not an everyday kind of album where you can just pop it on. But when it calls for it, the album has a lot of depth that you’ll always be left in awe by the lack of pure exposure amongst the masses. It isn’t that they aren’t popular, it is that this brand of indie-pop isn’t as big as other variations out there. And here’s hoping California Soil gives them another boost internationally.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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