A Quietly Brilliant Debut. Reviewed by Jamie Hancock.
Loyle Carner’s music – ever since Tierney Terrace was first released – has always felt intimate. Instead of grime-style heavy electronic beats and tight bars, his rap reaches for something more soul-searching and jazz infused. It’s clear why NME has called his work “confessional”.
There’s an ache to his voice. Each song feels less like a rap than a private conversation we’ve been allowed to eavesdrop on. Everything is simple and honest. The focus is always close to home: imaginary sisters, father-figures, fear of failure, reaching adolescence in Croydon. It’s a sensibility that seems to run through the whole album from beginning to end. His mum features twice – first in a recorded conversation about whether she taught him to swear (she even calls him a “shmoo”), and then to read a free-verse poem about his childhood. It’s not exactly something you could see many grime artists doing. And that’s the point – Loyle Carner is entirely unlike almost any other London MCs working at the moment. There’s no bravado. There’s no aggression. Carner’s voice skates over carefully arranged drum loops and guitar riffs, minimally textured, with their jazz and soul roots exposed. He seems more than happy to put his emotions on show. Everything is personal here.
At one point, Carner performs with no backing for nearly a minute about the anxiety of waiting for a reply to a text. Both in its content and its delivery, the piece is hardly something you could imagine working on a JME EP. But Carner is different. He blurs the boundary between spoken-word poetry and rap, with his easy flow masking the rhythm working behind his verses. It should be no surprise that he has recently collaborated with Kate Tempest. The one song to differ greatly from the album’s usual tone is No CD. This track – already released as a single – takes on more traditional hip-hop stylings, with a dominant guitar line and a more assertive approach by Carner, coupled with a guest verse by Rebel Kleff. Yet even here, Carner strips it back to a single bass loop and vocal hook for the chorus. The result is old-and-new, strong yet still in keeping with the pared back voice we’ve already become used to.
In fact, the whole album feels like a piece of nostalgia – reaching back , both musically and emotionally, to find a grounding. And what a solid grounding that is. Everything is quietly confident and assured, from the production to Carner himself. In some respects, his focus on the past and family history is what gives the LP its unique identity. Yesterday may be gone, but its soul is here.