Loyle Carner (ft. Jorja Smith)
The album, Not Waving, But Drowning, is available here:
19th April, 2019
I am doing things differently this weekend...
and am focusing entirely on artists that are in the mainstream. I would normally look at a rising artist now but, without anything current that is interesting to me, I thought I would take the time to look at Loyle Carner. After reviewing Madonna yesterday, this is the second review in as many days that looks at a collaboration – this one, I feel, is more effective. I will talk about, first, Loyle Carner and the pressure of a second album; British Hip-Hop and the development through the years; duets and collaborations and why a well-judged one can be very effective; Jorja Smith and why she is one of the strongest artists in the world right now – I will take a look at Loyle Carner and where he might be heading in the coming months. When Loyle Carner released his debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, early in 2017, there were many who couldn’t believe the sound he was making. The record was nominated for a Mercury that year and fantastic reviews came in thick and fast! I count that album as among the best of 2017 and it was wonderful discovering this raw talent who was different to everyone else around. Some of the songs from the album – such as The Isle of Arran and Ain’t Nothing Changed – are still in my brain and the songs, whilst accessible, hold personal weight and unique spirit. There are bits of Jazz sprinkled in and there are some nice beats throughout. It is Carner’s prowess and command that makes the songs pop and resonate. His rapping and flow is never too boastful and primal: instead, we have someone who is more personable and softer but has a lot of skill and cut. I am not sure who Carner is inspired by but he does not sound like some of the more aggressive U.S. Hip-Hop artists. It is no shock that Yesterday’s Gone received such acclaim and celebration. Following that is quite a hard task.
Rather than replicate what was on that record, we have a new album, Not Waving, But Drowning, that has some similarities. Carner has not changed his sound radically and, over fifteen tracks, he has plenty of time to explore and expand. He covers a lot of ground and, once more, brings in some collaborators on various numbers. I will discuss Jorja Smith when reviewing the track but Not Waving, But Drowning has been picking up plenty of love from fans and critics. Both of his albums talk about his family and past. A lot has changed over the past few years and Carner has documented this on Not Waving, But Drowning. Carner, in this interview with FADER talked about his need to be open and, in many ways, his sophomore album is deeper and harder-hitting. Carner discussed the changes and what has happened in his life since his debut release:
“A lot of stuff was changing for me," Carner says. “I was moving out of my mum's house and in with my missus — a kind of purgatory. My only safe space was the studio.”
Carner’s close relationship with his mother was the beating heart of Yesterday’s Gone, an album that concluded with her reading a poem she wrote (“He was and is a complete joy / The world is his, that scribble of a boy”). This time, his relationship with his “missus” informed the new album: “She's the only person that tells me if my music is shit,” he says. “It's an incredible thing to have.” He also says he’s been learning to be less selfless with age: “It's been nice to put myself first, in really small ways.”
Not Waving, But Drowning allows Carner to open up about those closest to him over nostalgic boom-bap production, rejecting modern sounds and lyrical trends while clearing a lane that only he is keen to occupy”.
There is a lot of pressure on artists between albums and following up a successful debut. Whilst there are similar shades this time around, Not Waving, But Drowning seems like a more personal and open work. It holds greater emotional weight and there is more depth to be found. That is not to say his debut was light but I feel Carner is exploring his own psyche and going deeper this time around. A lot of artists are being very revealing regarding mental-health and it is not a surprise to see these very evocative and touching albums coming through.
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Coulson
Some critics fancy Carner’s debut more but there is ample passion for his new record. I feel there is this pressure for artists to top what they did before but, as long as they remain true and focused, it is possible to navigate that expectation and sense of pressure. Carner has produced another masterful album at a time of change and movement. I do like British Hip-Hop and the fact there is a rise right now but Carner seems to sit outside of what is happening at the core. In the interview I just sourced, he talked about the British crop coming through and how he is slightly separate. Stormzy, slowthai and Dave are all doing remarkable work and, whilst they might be more Grime/Rap-based, you could not compare Carner to them. Those artists, in many ways, are documenting what is happening in Britain and have a slightly more political edge. They have a sharper and edgier sound and I actually prefer Loyle Carner. He is, as stated, more accessible but can still produce songs that have bite and attack. He always works with people he is close with so, when it comes to the likes of Jordan Rakei and Jorja Smith, these are people he respects and knows will bring something great to his work. There is greater warmth and the homespun from Carner and you feel like this is a young man who is concerned about the state of the world but knows that family come first. He has a very close relationship with his mum, Jean, and she has been a central focus of both albums. Carner was keen to provide for her and worried about her during the debut album; wanting the best for her and hoping the album did well so he could look after her. Now, there is less pressure regarding finance but Carner has gone back to his roots for Not Waving, But Drowning and explores his Guayanan heritage. He has a tense relationship with his biological dad and was raised by his mum and step-dad.
It is hard to discuss family and something fraught but Carner, as a songwriter, feels it is important to touch on these subjects and not shy away. Instead of the usual rappers and those who shout and spit anger, there is this calm when you hear Carner sing. He lets the listeners into his world and wants them to get a true sense of who he is and where he came from. This is not something you hear from all artists and it is fantastic that Carner has not stepped away from this path and betrayed his ideals. Jean, naturally, is his guiding light and someone he counts as his rock. On his latest album, there are some hard moments and big emotions expressed but there is plenty of light and compassion. It is a nice blend of sounds and expressions; one gets a full spectrum of thoughts and feelings and it is impossible to ignore the album. A couple of the singles have been floating about for a while so we sort of knew what Carner was going to give us. The more you dive into Not Waving, But Drowning, the more you pick up. There are differences and fresh additions (compared to the debut) and he has not merely copied Yesterday’s Gone. If Loyle Carner is apart from many of his Rap and Hip-Hop peers then that is a good thing. He is forging his own path and determined to add his unique stamp. I know there are loads more albums in Carner and I cannot wait to see where he heads next. The young man has changed from this promising artist living with his mum to this growing star who has moved out and is looking ahead. Success has not changed his core and heart but one can feel greater confidence and range on his current album. Collaborations are an important part of Carner’s work. He is keen to bring his mates in to give his music that sense of the familiar and personal. He lets us all in and wants his music to be this fulsome and varied thing. Jorja Smith appears on the current single, Loose Ends.
There are some great collaborations on Not Waving, But Drowning. Jordan Rakei appears on Ottolenghi whilst Sampha features on Desoleil (Brilliant Corners); Jean Coyle-Larner (his mum) on Dear Ben and Tom Misch on Angel. It is like Carner has his mates around and we are opening his door but, more than that, we get these different voices that add new dynamics to the songs. I said yesterday, when featuring Madonna, how collaborations can be misjudged and unwise. You do feel like some are engineered to give artists a boosts or rack up the numbers on Spotify. I do think a great collaboration can do wonders but there are so many that are quite vague, insincere and forgettable. A great collaboration should put the main artist at the front but have another (other) artist providing something special. In the case of Loyle Carner, he has these artists with him who he knows and trusts – not just the latest fad and hot star that can add a bit of credibility. Because of that, the fusions sound more natural and there is this great connection between Carner and his guests. Carner is the standout but I love how these different voices can add something fresh and nuanced. Look at Jorja Smith and what she does on Loose Ends. This track, to me, is the standout from Not Drowning, But Waving because of the way the two combine and fuse. Carner is up-top and doing what he does and then, adding this rose-scented and sweet breeze, Smith comes in and produced a sublime vocal. It is so full of beauty and not something you might expect from a Hip-Hop song. She is a great artist and, not to steal too much focus from Carner, someone who is enjoying big success herself right now. These two British titans sound perfectly joined and you cannot help but fall in love with this gorgeous sound. In many ways, Jorja Smith is rising faster than Loyle Carner. Both of them are examples of the best of British and what quality is coming from the country.
IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith
I discovered Jorja Smith a couple of years and have been following her ever since. Her debut album, Lost & Found, was released last year and nominated for a Mercury too. The album has this mix of the simple and complex; the emotional and breezy and there is this great clash happening throughout. Smith is a fantastic writer and someone who, like Carner, takes us into her heart. Her voice is sensational and, at only twenty-one, she has years to develop it and make it even stronger. Right now, she is growing and making a name for herself here and in the U.S. Listen to Lost & Found and it is the sensual and tender nature that gets to you. It is a fantastic record and, like Loyle Carner, there will be pressure how she will follow it. Smith does not really collaborate with others on her own material but has appeared on other records. I think she has a really bright future and I am excited to see where she can go. What I love about her music most is the command and confidence she has. Even though Smith is very young, she has been in music for a little while and sounds completely comfortable and assured. I do hope Smith and Carner work together again because they sound completely harmonious and natural together. Smith will go onto great things because she has her own style and the sort of songs that get into the bones and stay in the mind. I didn’t want to steal too much focus from Loyle Carner but it is important to mention his collaborator and how important she is. Loose Ends is this fantastic moment where you get Carner’s distinct voice laying down the words and then, out of nowhere, comes this caramel-rich and stunning voice that takes you somewhere else. Let us look ahead and look at the song in question, shall we? It is a brilliant moment from Not Waving, But Drowning and a demonstration regarding the effectiveness of a great collaboration.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bella Howard
It is Jorja Smith who opens Loose Ends. It is unusual to see a collaboration where the ‘outside’ artist starts things off. One expects Carner to have first say but it is much more effective and unexpected hearing Smith lead us in. “In love, when the going is tough…” she sings. It is the way she phrases those words and how striking they sound that really catches you off guard. There are words of sentiments falling on deaf ears and a lack of boundaries; the wish that there is a better way and (hope that) things can be different. I am intrigued by the words and the fact that Smith delivers them with such beauty. There is never a sense of anger or blackness and, enveloped by this sumptuous sound and grace, your heart and brain move in different directions. I wondered whether the song was about a personal relationship Carner has or a general feeling about family and dislocation. Smith retreats to the back and says the word ‘way’ at the end of each line. It is an effecting and stunning idea that gives this nice flow and beauty at the end of lines that are quite open, searching and emotive. The blend of Carner and Smith works wonderfully from the beginning. The hero looks at loose ends in his life and the fact he has a lot to clear up. There are people in his life that he wishes he knew back then and one feels that, when things were tough a while ago, he would have liked them around – they might not have been in his life then but there’s a feeling that things would have been different if they were. Carner is “wetting the pen” – such a strangely romantic and unusual image in the age of the digital communication – with every letter that is sent. I do wonder, again, whether Carner is talking about a lover or someone that used to be in his life.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Holyoak
Knowing that he has this closeness with his mum and there were problems with his birth dad, maybe family and communication from them has inspired this song. As Smith sings gorgeously in the background, Carner talks about friends going astray and him changing. He was in Australia and turning down free drinks he could not even name. It seems life this new life and sense of increased success has taken him to new places and he has drifted apart from some of his mates. Maybe not everything is bad but you sense this yearning from Carner. There is this image of him seeing all these family trinkets and memories and them being so far away. Life has changed and Carner has grown; he is not the same boy he was and people have left his life. Carner delivers his lines with a skillful and mature combination of heart and drive and you are captivated by the flow. There are words of blame and sticking his head out in the rain and, whilst that projects images of depression and loss, I wonder whether Carner is speaking about his state of mind and changing relationships or something else. The words are both oblique and direct and there is this room for interpretation. Jorja Smith arrives with her opening words and breaks up the tenser and faster flow. It is a nice interjection and gives the song a sense of strange romance and comfort. Carner talks about someone not being there when his father died and his mum cried; a need for someone to be there for him and by his side. I hear images of Carner feeling pressure to put his pen to the page and being up there on the stage. He looks down from the stage and sees women winking and mates drinking. He has this sense of regret and longing and I wonder whether he feels estranged from an older life where he was free and his new-found life as a star.
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures
One definitely feels Carner speaking to his peers as well as himself. Time is on his side but there has also been a lot of wasted time. Carner has seen tragedy and loss and there have been times he’s dropped the ball. His mates have been the same and there is this message for them. The words come so thick and fast that images swim and crash like waves. Carner is never aggressive but he packs a lot in over a short distance! Loose Ends is a fantastic song that gets you thinking and, throughout, you feel this sensitive and brave young man pouring his heart out. I have listened to the song a lot and feel I have a better understanding each time I listen to it. I do think that Smith adds some relief and escape from darker words but, more than that, seems to be this voice inside Carner’s head. Carner has a lot of love inside of him and he realises that his past was tricky and he made mistakes. He needed that stability and support and, yeah, there’s regret that things were like that. Now, looking back, you sense this young man making sense of things and looking forward. The elegant and touching piano line support the words and adds extra weight. The song ends pretty suddenly and, at the end, you do wonder what the song is truly about. Everyone has their own view and you can pick up truth from the lyrics. Carner leaves some room open for personal interpretation and thought. Loose Ends is this brilliant cut from Not Waving, But Drowning and shows the full spectrum of Carner’s talent. Make sure you check out the song and, more than that, go and listen to the album because there are many more gems like this. I selected Loose Ends for special consideration because of the juxtaposition of Jorja Smith’s voice and Carner’s. It is a magnificent blend and one that I hope is exploited more in the future.
It has been a very busy past couple of years for Loyle Carner. Many were waiting for his debut before it come out in 2017 and there was a lot of excitement swirling. It arrived and, sure enough, there was passionate chatter and praise. The record got award nominations and some huge reviews. Carner has produced this sublime second album and, again, there is a lot of love for it. People will want to see him on the road and get a chance to witness these new songs in the flesh. It is a busy time for the young man and one could forgive him for taking a rest and spending a few months out. Instead, he is busy on social media and seems like he is gearing up for a hectic next few months. He will want to get on the road and take his album to the people but there is also going to be other commitments. He is, by the looks of it, sporting football shirts right now and there is a partnership happening. Check out his Twitter page and you can see what is happening what the man is up to. With a record out, there are lots of interviews and everyone wants to know what the songs are about. Even though there has been a bit of tension between him and his long-time friend Rebel Kleff (the two have fallen out regarding a disagreement about money), this new album sees Carner moving forward and embracing the future. I will finish by quoting from another interview he gave and some interesting revelations. If you are not familiar with Loyle Carner than maybe track back to Yesterday’s Gone and see where he came from. Not Waving, But Drowning is a natural step forward and has many similarities to the debut – perhaps some greater range and depth when it comes to his emotions. When speaking with The Independent, Carner discussed living with ADHD and how cooking not only helps him but kids with the same condition:
“Carner also runs cooking courses for 14-16-year-olds with ADHD. “I trust them with knives and fire,” he says. “Because nothing keeps the focus like danger. And giving kids responsibility helps them behave responsibly. We do simple things, make tortellini and learn to respect the ingredients, relish the flavours. It can be a meditation.” The course has also featured guest chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi: one of two chefs to get a shout out on the new record. The other is the late Antonio Carluccio, who gives his name to a song on which Carner rhymes a line about “pouring sparkling pressé” with one about his mum “marking essays”.
There is, with any artist, this pressure to conform to the ideals of fame and celebrity. Many artists revel in the notion of the old-school Rock lifestyle: where there are women who want to have sex with you and there’s this sense of excess. This, to Carner, is not what he is in music for:
“Carner shakes his head: “I mean, I’ve been on tour. If your music starts to take off there will be a lot of girls who want to sleep with you and a lot of boys who want to hang out and give you drugs. There will be a lot of boys who want to sleep with you and girls who give you drugs. So you can do that. Or you can take that little bit of cash you’ve made and invest in having a real life. I focus on the fact I’ve managed to help my family, I’ve got a girlfriend who loves me, I’m thinking about getting a dog. These things are so wicked to me. These things have been my dreams since I was a kid. Why would I mess that up?”
As I leave, Carner writes an inspirational message for my son and asks if I can bring him to the album launch. “Are you sure?” I ask. “He’ll be upside down in the corner!” The frog prince grins wide. “That’s fine. I’ll be the rapper upside down in the other corner”.
I wanted to include that last paragraph from the interview as it shows what a gentle and down-to-earth nature Carner has. Unlike some artists who appear aloof and distant, Carner connects with people. He is someone we can all relate to and one of these people that is keen to open up and not hide away. This is inspirational for others who go through the same things and feel they are alone. Listen to Not Waving, But Drowning and discover this remarkable and bold record. It is a fantastic revelation and sports some of Loyle Carner’s best material to date. You can see and hear the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into the music and so, for that reason, Not Waving, But Drowning warrants…
IN THIS PHOTO: A young Loyle Carner with his mum, Jean
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PHOTO CREDIT: Emma Swann
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