Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Loyle Carner delivers passion, vulnerability and an intimate ‘darker side’ on new album ‘hugo’

The 3rd album from the hip-hop artist is his most personal to date.

hugo’ sees Loyle Carner delve deep into the intricacies of his life. From childhood confusion, the current political landscape and living as a mixed-race Black man, ‘hugo’ is the spider web of Carner’s innermost thoughts and experiences. 

To accompany this labyrinth, the South-London-based MC utilises an array of musical instrumentation which distinguishes each track from the next, whilst keeping each track as uniquely important as the one before it. 

Transitioning from synth distortion and vocal manipulation on ‘Hate’, ‘Nobody Knows (Ladas Road), and ‘Blood on my Nikes’, to more traditional instrumentation of electric guitar, brass and piano on ‘Georgetown’,Speed of Plight’ and ‘Homerton’ to even a lofi-ballad-esque moment on ‘A Lasting Place’, the album is varied and developed from start to finish.

As diverse as it may be, the album as a whole is bound by an emotional, expressive production style that keeps ‘hugo’ a slick, cohesive body of work. As Carner pens familial relationships, sobriety, racism and generational trauma, the listen is simultaneously enjoyable, conversational, necessary, and crucial to a more grounded understanding of societal complexities.

Previously released single ‘Hate’ strongly opens the album, with Carner’s flows seamlessly blending with the textured instrumentation, taking listeners from one thought to another with impressive fluidity. ‘Hate’ is a tsunami of raw energy and inner-conflict as Carner rages against the expectations that people of colour, without choice, find themselves tied to, “they said it was all that you could be if you were black / Playing ball or maybe rap / and they would say it like a fact”. Yet, there is still a struggle to celebrate his success without guilt, “I love the money in my bank / it’s disgraceful”

Nobody Knows (Ladas Road)’ is where Carner begins to open up about his past. The storytelling nature of the track effortlessly conveys the confusion felt growing up with “biological neglect”. As Carner expresses his most basic wishes that are ignored, “I wanna hug / I wanna talk / I want something” the drums become more intense and demanding. 

At the midway mark, ‘Speed of Plight’ and ‘Homerton’ offer the first real moment of a comedown: the pace slower, the instruments more subdued. Carner explores themes of pride, hard work, family, and even dabbles in the existential. If the first three tracks were an unfiltered catharsis, then these two are the opposite. These are the moments that reflect the observational, the unanswerable: “Is the world moving fast for you as well? / Is it only me?”

Similar to Carner’s first two albums, there are many moments of spoken word and vocal samples on ‘hugo’. Brimming with justified defiance and contempt in equal measure, this solidifies the message of each track; for instance, ‘Plastic’ makes explicit reference to the absolute vulgarity of the BBC airing racial slurs on daylight TV.

Track 6, ‘Blood on my Nikes’ drives home the devastating causes and effects of knife crime, and rebels against the system blaming minority groups and individuals. Instead, ‘Blood on my Nikes’ puts explicit responsibility on the bleak, inaction of the government, stating “we must focus on the root causes of knife crime; poverty, inequality, austerity and and a lack of opportunity [...] never has so much been lost by so many because of the indecision of so few”.

Additionally, ‘Georgetown’ sees Carner reconnect with his Guyanese heritage. The rapper’s distant relationship with his father consequently resulted in a distant relationship with his own Black identity. ‘Georgetown’ is an attempt to unpack that confusion and navigate the world as a biracial man, without a solid understanding of what it means to be Black. The track also samples John Agard’s poem ‘Half-caste’, which Carner states gave him “the permission to finally write explicitly about being mixed”. Although a derogatory term for those of mixed-heritage, Carner and Agard use the poem to gain a further sense of reclamation, understanding and ownership over their experiences. 

Track 9, ‘Pollyfilla’ and track 10, ‘HGU’ are the perfect closing tracks as they give two different perspectives on experiencing abuse. ‘Pollyfilla’, aptly referring to both the physical and emotional cracks that abuse can leave, “I hate this fuckin house I live / cause there’s holes in every wall” is arguably the album’s emotional peak. The track cleverly and sensitively reflects the psychological effects of abuse. Carner contemplates the possibility that the generational cycles may continue into his own family and desperately tries to escape the idea that one day he could potentially be “the villain in the story”.

‘HGU’ is more reflective and views the situation in a more forgiving light, as Carner aims to somehow rationalise the abuse “hurt people hurt people / especially the ones who weren’t equal”. and appears to want to make sense of his past. ‘Polyfilla’ and ‘HGU’ beg question, must one idea reign over the other or can these two feelings co-exist? And if so, is it possible to comfortably live with this duality?

‘hugo’ shows a more developed side to Loyle Carner, both personally and musically. It’s a welcomed change from his previous mellow style, and offers listeners an insight into what he’s called his “darker side” through pure emotional, unadulterated honesty. 

‘hugo’ is set for release on October 21st. 

Rachel Feehan

@rachiefee @rachel_feehan

Image: ‘hugo’ Official Album Cover

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