Sunday, May 09, 2021

Feminine power and the death of the American dream; London Grammar make a triumphant return with Californian Soil

Listening to Californian Soil, it’s difficult to believe frontwoman Hannah Reid ever considered she might not be cut out for the music industry. Beneath the album’s signature ethereal synth beats and bold orchestral swathes lies the fledgling embers of a woman on fire.

Vocal about the winding and often menacing hills of the music industry they’ve had to travel through, it’s safe to say London Grammar has finally arrived. Californian Soil is as confident as it is bewilderingly confrontational. 


The album is a testament to the signature style we know and love, but it’s the mad unpredictability that runs through the album’s twelve tracks that make Californian Soil not only iconic, but truly addictive.

 

The music may be dreamy, as can only be expected from the London-based pop trio, but it’s Reid’s fiery lyrics and bold feminist rhetoric that really define this album. Californian Soil is an ode to female solidarity, the death of the American dream, and the torment of living in a man’s world.

 

The album begins by transporting us to another time with the triumphant 'Intro' which gives off vibes that could only be described as medieval. Leading into the title track, the now-familiar first single off the album which got fans so excited back in October last year brings those jubilant feelings to a head as Reid’s voice twists a winding coming of age fable in 'Californian Soil'.

 

“I am young, I am old

And so you do what you're told

I never had a willing hand

And so you pack up all your bags.”

 

'Californian Soil' closely mimics London Grammar’s signature sound – but it’s the following tracks where things get truly interesting. With an opening sound closely resembling spoken word poetry laid over the snapping of fingers, we are thrust headfirst into “Missing.” The track features the undeniably simple but chilling texture of Reid’s voice laid over a simple synth beat.

 

The third track, 'Lose Your Head' is a balancing act between divine femininity and empowerment, and the power of controlling and coercive relationships.

 

“It's a demon, baby

When it comes like my oldest friend

Have you got a friend in the night?”

 

Despite its foreboding lyrics, the dreamy sound of 'Lose Your Head' emulates the feeling of driving down an ocean road in the late afternoon sun. It’s the kind of song that inspires a sense of freedom. 

 

'Lord It’s A Feeling' is the first track on the album to use a curse – and as such the opening lyrics spun over lingering keys hit with the delicacy of a vivaciously angry woman. There’s frustration and longing, but there’s also a tone of authority that dominates the song until the moment the synths cut in.

 

Before long we’re midway through the album. You’re probably still lying on your bedroom floor fearing even the slightest movement might break the spell. It’s here that Californian Soil could fall flat – where could we possibly go from here?

 

Rounding off the first half of the album, 'How Does It Feel?' is probably the weakest track. That doesn’t stop the song from being a pure blend of London Grammar’s signature ethereal sound, mixed with some proper pop-esque revenge. If 'How Does It Feel?' is for those seeking revenge, then 'Baby It’s You' is for the redeemers. It’s one of the softer tracks on the album, carrying a classic atmosphere with a bit of dance thrown in for good measure.

 

'Call Your Friends' is a subtle ode to the understated sound fans know and love. Reid’s voice is angelic in its softness – yet despite the gentle nature of her voice, there is also a sense of strength. The song paints a dramatic journey of self-love and acceptance.

 

'All My Love' serves almost like a brief interlude, when in fact it’s the longest track on the album. It’s most certainly a break from the more upbeat songs, yet there’s something particularly transportive and comforting about the opening descent into the crackle of an old record player. As the track fades, Reid’s faraway voice chanting 'all my love”' and the dusty guitar stand out, cementing the song’s place as the most understated track on the album.

 

Those otherworldly vibes continue into 'Talking'. Over the past few years, Reid has been vocal about her struggles navigating the notoriously predatory music industry. 'Talking' doesn’t shy away from those feelings of alienation and exclusion.

 

'I Need the Night' is an anthem for the modern feminist, shrugging off the patriarchy and sanctifying the need for women to take back the night and 'chase the morning'. 

 

“There is a whisper that our God is a she

She sits on high over the land and the sea

Her breast is heavy in a brand new world.”

 

'I Need the Night' blends seamlessly into 'America', the final track on Californian Soil. Once again Reid’s longing voice cascades over dreamy, dusky guitar, as a brutally honest four minutes sees the band finally come to terms with the fact the promised land is nothing more than a flawed, broken farce. America is Oz – nothing but a curtain, some magic tricks, and a strange man on an exercycle.

 

“But all of our time chasing America

But she never had a home for me.”

 

Heartbreakingly real, the song is the perfect conclusion to an album that explores fractured relationships, failed dreams, self-love, and acceptance – it’s your 20s epitomised. It’s the kind of self-assurance and maturity that can only come from growing the hell up. London Grammar isn’t a motley trio of unsure and insecure twenty-somethings anymore – more than anything, Californian Soil cements a sense of strength and a coming of age. 


We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.


 

Ella Tait

Instagram: @thedanktraveller

Twitter: @ellaptait

Image: London Grammar Live in Amsterdam, AFAS 2017


2 comments:

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