tue 26/05/2020

CD: Loyle Carner - Not Waving, But Drowning | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Loyle Carner - Not Waving, But Drowning

CD: Loyle Carner - Not Waving, But Drowning

British MC lays his heart on the line for album number two

Extending the metaphor

When poetic London MC Loyle Carner first appeared a couple years ago he was hailed for his fresh take on UK hip hop. Compared to the street-centric machismo of much grime music, he offered a welcome insight into a more sensitive 21st century masculinity that was a hit with both arts media sorts and the public.

When poetic London MC Loyle Carner first appeared a couple years ago he was hailed for his fresh take on UK hip hop. Compared to the street-centric machismo of much grime music, he offered a welcome insight into a more sensitive 21st century masculinity that was a hit with both arts media sorts and the public. His second album, named for a Stevie Smith poem, contains two songs titled after virtuoso chefs (“Ottolenghi” and “Carluccio”), and one dedicated to his mother. It will do nothing to dent this reputation for emotional articulacy.

Carner doesn’t so much spit verses as let them flow out of him, lazy-drawled in delivery yet considered and literate in word choice. “Listen,” he says on “Angel”, “This is where you’ll find me, sipping on a chai tea, talking all politely.” The music usually takes second place, a mellow gumbo of stoned hip hop beats and light George Benson-esque soul-jazz. The exception is one of the album’s best tracks, “Krispy”, a song bemoaning how jealousy of his success destroyed a childhood friendship, closing with a delicious muted trumpet solo. Mostly, however, Not Waving, But Drowning is all about the words.

Like The Streets’ Mike Skinner, Carner’s tone is chatty but his observations rely more on intuitive internal dialogue. Much of the album shows a man in love, celebrating it, wondering about it, even, on “Ice Water”, hesitant to open himself up for fear of being hurt. The blood son of a black Guyanese man but raised by his white mother and late stepfather, his reflections on family are especially poignant in the self-questioning, weaving “Loose Ends” and much rawer “Looking Back”. The latter notes, “I’m thinking that my great grandfather could have owned my other one.”

Subtle social commentary seasons the dish, but this is an album of the heart. There are guest appearances, notably striking vocals from Sampha and Jorja Smith, but it’s one man’s vision. Laid out with deceptive gentleness over breezy summery grooves, Not Waving, But Drowning takes a couple of listens to bed in but when it does an unforced gem of British hip hop-soul is revealed.

Below: Watch the video for "You Don't Know" by Loyle Carner featuring Kiko Bun and Rebel Kleff
 
 

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters