London Grammar: Californian Soil review – bold sounds amid the usual spectral fare

(Metal & Dust/Ministry of Sound)
The British trio stick to boilerplate emoting and bland imagery, but there are small sonic steps forward

Given the icy pace and prevailing mournfulness of London Grammar’s last album, Truth Is a Beautiful Thing, the British trio naming their third record Californian Soil might suggest they were warming up a bit. Not quite: a reluctance to relinquish their sonic crutches – heavily reverbed electric guitars, meandering melodies and restraint masquerading as reverence – and a lyrical propensity for gloominess means things haven’t thawed much.

London Grammar Californian Soul Album Artwork Cover Art

There is some new bite, though. The title track, with its crunchy percussion, upfront instrumentation and clear nods to Massive Attack’s Teardrops, has greater presence than the band’s usual spectral fare. Likewise, when singer Hannah Reid’s soprano becomes too ghostly, as on Lose Your Head and All My Love, it’s grounded by a dusty guitar riff, padded synth or shuffling beat. The groove-led How Does It Feel, co-produced by hitmaker Steve Mac, is an adept balancing act between the band’s signature sound and big pop production. Highlight track Lord It’s a Feeling is a stunning meditation on infidelity and gaslighting that borrows from trance and trip-hop, making for a strange but exhilarating ballad.

Reid has said Californian Soil is about her gaining possession of her life, in part after she almost quit the “sexist and exploitative” music industry in 2019. The song Talking touches on disenfranchisement (“Leaders mean nothing to me … None of them true at the seams”) and I Need the Night shrugs off toxic exes and sanctifies femininity (“There is a whisper that our God is a she”). But any sense of actual assertiveness is quashed by the group’s usual musical anchors, bland imagery and boilerplate emoting. Moments of excitement notwithstanding, the result is a frustratingly tentative step from a band who promised bolder strides this time around.


Alim Kheraj

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
London Grammar – review

Concorde 2, Brighton
Brooding Brits with angsty anthems, impassioned delivery and the power to transfix a room. What's not to like, asks Caroline Sullivan

Caroline Sullivan

17, Oct, 2013 @1:25 PM

Article image
Beabadoobee: Beatopia review – stylish but unmemorable pop nostalgia
Londoner Beatrice Laus’s second album trips down a well-travelled path of sweet 90s indie-rock

Rachel Aroesti

15, Jul, 2022 @7:30 AM

Article image
Pillow Queens: Leave the Light On review – brooding, atmospheric indie
The classy second album from the Dublin alt-rock four-piece is steeped in hard-won wisdom and catharsis

Rachel Aroesti

01, Apr, 2022 @7:30 AM

Article image
Laura Veirs: Found Light review – folk-rocker’s sexual reawakening
The Portland singer-songwriter’s first album written after splitting from her husband and longtime producer is a candid confessional filled with headily intimate images

Rachel Aroesti

08, Jul, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Black Midi: Hellfire review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
From cocktail-lounge piano to thrashing drums, the British prog band make musical handbrake turns that are thrilling but hard to love

Alexis Petridis

14, Jul, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
Let’s Eat Grandma: Two Ribbons review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
Written amid grief and separation, the duo’s third album uses beautiful melodies and Top 40 choruses to consider their evolving bond

Alexis Petridis

28, Apr, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
Spoon: Lucifer on the Sofa review – timeless perfection from US indie stalwarts
Ten albums and nearly three decades in, Spoon still sound fresh, with swing and swagger – and there isn’t a dull moment

Michael Hann

10, Feb, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork review – deadpan chat, funk and hypnotic soundscapes
The follow-up to last year’s fine debut New Long Leg is more focused, with Florence Shaw’s low-key narration framed by powerful sounds

Dave Simpson

21, Oct, 2022 @7:30 AM

Article image
Arcade Fire: We review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
After a weak 2017 predecessor, the band’s new album returns to well-trodden territory. Its peevish lyrics are irritating, but it should avert a slide down festival bills

Alexis Petridis

05, May, 2022 @11:12 AM

Article image
Wet Leg: Wet Leg review | Rachel Aroesti's album of the week
With millennial angst and humour to spare, the duo’s quarter-life crisis album has a much broader remit than their repetitive breakout single

Rachel Aroesti

07, Apr, 2022 @1:16 PM