With their 2013 debut release If You Wait, downtempo trio London Grammar were able to carve something of a niche within the mild-mannered minimalist pop scene. Backed by sparse drum patterns and muted bass lines, the striking and soaring vocals from singer Hannah Reid created a recipe for critical and commercial success, which saw them go multi-platinum and scoop an Ivor Novello award as they were placed amongst the likes of The xx and James Blake as figureheads of the 2010s quiet revolution.
On their long-awaited follow-up, Truth Is a Beautiful Thing, the band neatly sidestep ‘difficult second album’ syndrome to deliver a record expertly pitched within the parameters they’ve defined for themselves, but one which begins to show signs of experimentation.
A tone of honest introspection is established and developed upon through eleven gorgeous and textured set-pieces that return frequently to the theme of longing
From the opening lines of first track ‘Rooting For You’, a ballad fraught with raw vulnerability, a tone of honest introspection is established and developed upon through eleven gorgeous and textured set-pieces that return frequently to the theme of longing. Longing for requited feelings, as on the rousing ‘Oh Woman Oh Man’, which moves from solemn piano-led verse into a marching chorus. Alternatively, longing to heal, as on Jon Hopkins’ richly-produced ‘Big Picture’, a track which recalls the luscious ambience of his own 2013 release Immunity. Or, as with both ‘Rooting For You’ and the closing title track, longing simply for the beauty of truth, that emotional honesty which allows you to love unguardedly and also to know when to walk away.
Indeed, there are a number of stylistic departures from the brooding dream-pop which has developed as the band’s signature sound, pointing towards an evolution which nonetheless steer well clear of ‘radical reinvention’ territory, and for good reason too. A swaggering bass line accompanies Reid on ‘Non Believer’ as she warns another against false declarations of love, a track whose chorus suddenly drives into the realms of synthwave with some growling, Kavinsky-esque vocal layering. Plucked banjo strings on ‘Everyone Else’ provide a folky turn to a tune about not fitting in, while standout track ‘Bones of Ribbon’ takes its cue straight from Florence + The Machine, with airy backing vocals and rhythmic percussion that build relentlessly towards the closest the band have ever been to anthemic. For a group so adept at executing the art of restraint, it’s a welcome surprise to hear the music soaring to the same heights as the vocals so often do.
There are a number of stylistic departures from the brooding dream-pop which has developed as the band’s signature sound
Undoubtedly, Reid’s voice remains the star of the show. The range she is able to command is nothing short of sublime, from the sonorous depth of ‘Hell To The Liars’ to the floating chorus of ‘Leave The War With Me’. Such stunning vocals remain the band’s most powerful and captivating weapon on an album which is more about quiet evolution than full-scale revolution. And, as is often the case in music, it’s as much about knowing when to stick to your guns as it is knowing when to twist.
Truth Is a Beautiful Thing is out now.