We saw with London rapper Benjamin Coyle-Larner, aka Loyle Carner’s first album Yesterday’s Gone that he was something different. Rejecting, or at least choosing to ignore the usual spoutings of bravado and boasting expected in a rappers armoury. Instead introduced us to his heart, firmly on his sleeve, his mother reading out poems extolling the virtues of her son, and this languid, likable flow that pulled in Mercury award nominations, significant airplay and much love and airplay.
He’s back, as is Mum with more self-penned verse, with a new album Not Waving, But Drowning. Named after the Stevie Smith poem, indeed the title track features the poet herself talking about the work, about a man who hides his insecurity behind a cheery exterior. As she says “A lot of people pretend, out of bravery really, that they are very jolly and ordinary sort of chaps, but really they do not feel at all at home in the world, or able to make friends easily. So then they joke a lot and laugh, and people think they’re quite alright and jolly nice too”. How much of this applies to, or reflects Loyle Carner is never really either addressed or referenced during the record, but perhaps the point is that it’s self-explanatory and everything else is wrapped around that.
Album opener Dear Jean sets the scene somewhat and reintroduces us to Carner. While mothers are a staple for rappers (Drake anyone? But also Nas, even Snoop amongst many others a have reference their Mums), it’s the candid, emotive feeling that Loyle Carner trades in that sets him apart, explaining he’ll always be there despite moving out of the family home. Elsewhere subjects hit on a range of emotions – the racism of his childhood touched on in ‘Looking Back’, to friendships falling apart (or at least changing) in Krispy and his own love letters to his girlfriend. There’s also his ability to tell everyday stories, or musings on his own life, observations – single Ottolenghi tells of a tube ride where a family mistook the chefs cookery book for a religious text, and chefs are at the forefront again in Carluccio – recently deceased Antonio.
All of this, as with much of his debut, is wrapped up in muffled pianos, organs and this sense of stripped back old soul. He’s drafted in the likes of Jorja Smith, Jordan Rakei and Tom Misch to pour their collective syrup over the beats. The only danger is that the subject matter, allied to his smooth, often contemplative delivery might spill over into mawkish schmaltz. Largely, he treads carefully enough to avoid that, and has instead created an album that is both enjoyable and satisfying.