Written by John Diliberto on July 3, 2017
The English trio called London Grammar is a young band that eschews rock’s energy, dance music’s drive, pop’s hook-centric production and even dream pop’s deep, reverb drenched moods.Still a young group, they instead have created an intimate and haunting chamber pop masterpiece with their second album, Truth Is a Beautiful Thing.
Although it’s been four years since their last album, If You Wait, the themes that London Grammar explored on their debut like “Wasting My Young Years” and “Strong,” remain on their new album. Singer Hannah Reid still isn’t finding the love she wants and is at different points, dismayed, resigned and pissed off about it. She attacks it from several points of view on Truth Is a Beautiful Thing.
Reid isn’t one of those whispering dream pop singers. She’s often compared to Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine and that power is there, but she also has the low and slow controlled burn of Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes.
She brings those pipes to a mix of impassioned vocals. On “Big Picture,” she’s defiant, tossing a lover aside in a song that builds from spare guitar and bare bones percussion and winds up in an almost hymn-like choral ascension. Likewise, on “Wild-Eyed” she lays down the law on a recalcitrant lover with a tribal performance of whammy bar vocal bends into her upper range. Reid even tells former lover’s that they are picking the wrong new lovers, and not in a “She’ll never love you like I do” kind of way. That song, “Non-Believer” is one of the few built around a propulsive electronic groove.
Other times she is so vulnerable, you want to wrap her up and comfort her. On “Oh Woman, Oh Man” a relationship is faltering, love isn’t returned and Reid bemoans it in hauntingly distressed luxury. The song has a slow build, reaching a crescendo as Reid turns from the anguished tone of the verse to the authority of the chorus, her voice multi-tracked into gospel-like choirs.
On “Hell to Liars’ she’s both damning the damnable and praising the “things you love.” It’s almost more of a chant than a song with her repeated refrains and some Native American style vocables at the end as the track builds on a marching, time-ticking groove. This could be a love song, or she could be talking about our current state of political affairs on both sides of the pond. So they aren’t all relationship laments. The powerful “Different Breeds” asks for racial and social tolerance In a way that is subtle, poetic and incisive.
The band enlisted several producers on the album including electronic artist Jon Hopkins of Coldplay and Brian Eno renown and Greg Kurstin who has worked with Adele, Sia, and Beck among others. But most of the labor goes to Paul Epworth whose productions with Adele, Rihanna and the aforementioned Florence and the Machine certainly prepares him to work with a singer of Hannah Reid’s vocal attributes.
But this is a much subtler and more organic album than most of those productions might suggest, with many of the songs carved around austere instrumentation where the trio of keyboards, guitar and percussion is usually the core of any given tune and acoustic piano lays down the bones. Dan Rothman is an economical guitarist in the mold of The XX, not a lot of effects, distortion or flash, just carefully placed punctuations and rhythmic accents that lock in with Dominic Majors which is more coloristic than rhythmic. Electronics, including Jon Hopkin’s work on “Big Picture”, are kept to the atmospheric edges, halos of sound around the core.