If up-and-coming, much-talked-about (the politically correct term for ‘buzz band’?) bands were seasons, Haim would definitely be the summer: the radiant sunshine exciting some and inciting fun, blissed-out adventure while admittedly irking others with its heat and tenacity. It would then be a cop-out to pigeonhole newcomers London Grammar as the autumn (because ‘fall’ is an awful name for a season – or anything really) simply because of the band’s cooler approach or gustier vocals. But with London Grammar’s first album, the – yes, you guessed it – London-based trio prove that they’re more than just the soundtrack to a season. To say that their debut album, If You Wait, is a perennial wonder would be quite a statement but in about 43 minutes, London Grammar make a damn good case.
The album begins with the first single “Hey Now”, a tune that’s been floating about since late 2012. I was a few months into my own move to London when I’d come across the simple yet highly charged number on a timely Twitter log-in. It served as an excellent introduction to the band with its minimal instrumentation and vocalist Hannah Reid’s expressively powerful serenading – a style the band employ repeatedly to glorious results on the album. And as the chill of England’s coldest winter in 50 years set in, so did the mesmeric power of London Grammar, aided quite a bit by the handful of tracks released along the way.
Much of If You Wait follows the same path stylistically as “Hey Now”: sparse instrumentation providing the lusciously sleek backdrop to Reid’s impassioned wail. All throughout “Shyer” guitarist Dan Rothman and pianist and drummer Dot Major keep things relatively simple; the melody undergoes only a few changes – changes that are at the very least minor. Reid’s vocal delivery is also pretty straightforward; free of any vocal gymnastics or any drastic pitch changes. But there’s something in the mix that empowers London Grammar’s music to be so impressively arresting – and it’s not just on “Shyer”. Recent single “Strong” follows in the same stead, benefiting from a stronger chorus and vocal that is fabulously engaging and delightfully entertaining.
It could be that London Grammar know their way around crafting a particularly gorgeous tune, or the way the trio mesh as a songwriting team; it could be something in the water (though I doubt it – have you seen the Thames?) or it could be all these and more. Either way, there’s a charm to London Grammar’s music that makes If You Wait an enjoyable listening experience. Wonderfully restrained and effortlessly executed, If You Wait is an album of understatements, playing with negative space and subtle dynamics as on the band’s take on Kavinsky’s “Nightcall”. The track’s imposing grand piano lays the foundation of a truly beautiful reworking until it climaxes in a cascade of percussive beats and Reid reaching for a falsetto, while simultaneously retaining the full-bodied, husky severity of her brooding vocals. With the impeccably smooth If You Wait, there’s more promise to London Grammar than a mere overnight sensation.
It’s an album imbued with natural charisma, an intuitive sense of melody, personality, and sentimentality all exhibited with the right blend of self-affirmed confidence and the humility to take things one step at a time. It’s blatantly obvious that Reid’s vocal prowess is capable of greater feats but on If You Wait, the band are respectfully controlled; forgoing the fairly easy temptation of hurriedly testing just how loud Reid’s stunning vocals can get. It’s not totally unalike how fellow siren Jessie Ware’s debut Devotion also teased at Ware’s promise as a commanding voice, yet chose to explore what a meeker avenue could do – both wielding remarkable results.
Beyond this smart, stylistic design to the band’s songs, If You Wait is also very much bolstered by the emotional charge to the band’s delivery – A charge that’s marked by a poignancy that feels wholly genuine. From the melancholy “Sights” to the incredibly formidable force behind album finale “If You Wait” London Grammar’s music is so drenched in sentimental sincerity that the album’s intensity comes across as both fierce and modest. In particular, “Wasting My Young Years” channels a devastation that captures the private solitude of an emotional awakening, lamenting in loss and despair but without the wallowing self-pity that most emotional displays revel in.
However, it’s not as somber as the combination initially sounds. “Metal & Dust” with its kinetic beats and vibrant gives an exciting twist to things, especially in the track’s last minute where Dot Major’s stellar production shines bright. The African djembes on “Flicker” also proves to be an astonishingly fresh inclusion to an already refreshing album, the track’s startling middle eight demonstrating that the band are capable of surprising ingenuity when dramatically changing their formula.
So how is this a perennial wonder? If You Wait evokes the stormy squalor of summer’s monsoons, the stark desolation of a harsh winter. It’s an album that’s as crisp and fresh as a light autumn breeze; an album that revels in verve and expression, blossoming as the spring buds do. All of this makes If You Wait a stimulating, glorious triumph.