Recently, like many people, I’ve a spent a lot of time at home sitting at my desk. With everything being online at university this year, I opted to stay home in March to revise for my summer exams basing this decision on the fact that I’m supposedly more focussed at home and better able to set myself up to succeed. That was the plan but now I’m not so sure this is true.
What seems to have happened is that I have spent a significant portion of this time scrolling through Spotify and down the rabbit holes of clicking through ‘fans also like’ sections. Sure, I was supposed to be doing revision at these times but I think I just need to view expanding my playlists as its own accomplishment. It has kept me sane, after all.
I’ve come to the point now where all I want to do is share these new discoveries as well as some old favourites, so here we are! Recently, there have been two albums in particular that I have had on regular rotation and they are both great additions to the artists’ respective catalogues. They both offer something new but don’t compromise on and lose the artist’s voice, which is always a risk.
Collections from the Whiteout, Ben Howard
Ben Howard’s fourth full length album, Collections from the Whiteout, has been my most loyal companion during revision. It’s certainly not the same as his previous three and, in its experimental approach, it creates something uniquely beautiful.
This was more of a collaborative project than his previous work and these outside influences show through just enough without his music losing its signature blend of poetic imagery and calming atmosphere. Many of the songs seem to focus on things lost and found and provide the album with a sense of blissful optimism which is much needed at the moment.
My personal favourite out of all the tracks on this album is Sorry Kid. It begins with an uncharacteristic electronic beat that you feel could build to something more akin to a dance song but, from the first strum of the guitar, heavily laden with effects, it recalls the hypnotic sounds of Nica Libres at Dusk, the opening track on his previous album. In both of these songs, the vocals are the true standout. There is something gentle and calming, almost an effortless flow to his voice, that carries your mind away for a while. What makes this song even better is the music video and how it reflects the tone. It shows chaos and carnage going on around a silent protagonist who seems oblivious to it or else content just to be in the moment.
Sorry Kid captures the motivation of the album better than any other song on it. Ben Howard commented that he wanted to create songs that evoke a feeling rather than conveying a meaning and, in its pursuit of this goal, I quite often think of Collections from the Whiteout as an almost existential experience. Opening with Follies Fixture and the strange waves of sound that reverberate through the background, it is hard to deny the effect.
The songs on this album are varied but also slot together nicely. There are early uplifting tracks like What a Day and Far Out that lift the mood and energy but, as it meanders to its conclusion, The Strange Last Flight of Richard Russel and Metaphysical Cantations bring it back to a satisfying and mellow finish.
I must also mention here that Buzzard is possibly my favourite final track of any album. It’s short and bizarre with a simple blues style guitar riff and there’s something irresistible about it.
Californian Soil, London Grammar
It feels like it has been a long wait for London Grammar’s third album. Both If You Wait and Truth is a Beautiful Thing have been two of my favourite albums to play at home for a long time and, I must admit, when I heard the first single released from the new album, Baby It’s You, I was nervous. As much as I liked the song, it seemed London Grammar were leaning more heavily than ever into the electronic pop side of their music that has always (at least in my mind) been their secondary sound.
Maybe it’s because I only seem to like sad songs (or songs other people hear as sad despite my attempts to convince them otherwise) but I have always preferred London Grammar’s music when they aim for an emphasis on their atmospheric and melancholic tone and highlight the power of the vocals.
The new album combines these two types of song, the electronic pop and the sombre ballads, and has great songs for each category but I’m not entirely convinced they fit together as a complete album. It can feel quite disjointed in places when, one moment, you’re listening to the final lingering note of a song that is carrying a great weight of emotion and, the next moment, the beat is building on a song trying to get you up out of your seat. Still, these have been some of my favourite songs to have on repeat while revising and this disjointedness hasn’t stopped me returning time and time again.
I love the introduction and how it sets up the whole album as a cinematic experience similar to that of bands like The xx. Songs like Missing and America certainly continue that feeling but, interspersed between tracks like Lose Your Head and How Does it Feel, the sudden change in tone can often feel like that moment when there’s a phone going off in the cinema and you’re ripped from the immersive experience.
America is the final track; my favourite song on the album. It’s dark and atmospheric and the lyrics talk about false promises of prosperity and acceptance of reality. It uses Hannah Reid’s powerful vocals to their full potential and every second of it seems to be overflowing with depth and meaning. If the album was filled with moments like this, it would be close to perfect.
Overall, I feel that Californian Soil falls just short of London Grammar’s first two albums but it’s one of those situations where even their weakest album is still stunning. I think it’s one that will continue to grow on me as I listen and become more familiar with it and I look forward to that being the case.
And that’s that for now. I should probably get back to the revision that these albums have helped me procrastinate, but I will certainly be back to share more as soon as revision allows.
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