On paper, Loyle Carner sounds like a rapper for Middle England. He’s an articulate South Londoner, who loves his mum and brother. His family tragedy (the loss of his beloved stepfather to cancer) ticks all the X Factor boxes. He uses his fame to help out young men and women who, like him, have dyslexia, through the exquisitely named cooking school Chilli Con Carner. All of this doesn’t sound particularly enticing for hip hop fans used to something a little less wholesome. Yet Carner’s strength is his crossover appeal, given the hype he had already received before releasing his debut album. Yesterday’s Gone is an exciting sign of things to come from an artist whose star is already ballooning.
Gospel flavoured ‘The Isle of Arran’ opens the album, and is a fitting statement of intent. Here Carner displays his penchant for wearing his heart on his sleeve; Carner is honest and unafraid to expose himself. The energy of the track is palpable, while his sampling of gospel classic ‘The Lord Will Make a Way’ points to his obvious musical maturity and diversity of taste.
Immediately following this, we swerve and hit the slow, melodic ‘Mean it in the Morning’. Here the tone is wistful, even preachy, supported by simple tremolo guitar. It could not be more different from the album’s opener – this is certainly a varied collection of tracks. But Carner himself never truly settles into a rhythm. He teases us with snapshots of styles, before breezing off to new territory.
This is acutely true in the middle of the album. ‘Damselfly’ features friend and frequent collaborator Tom Misch, a prodigious and successful artist in his own right. Misch’s trademark of mixing vintage J Dilla-style boom bap with jazz influences and skilful guitar playing shines through on this track. Carner sounds at ease in the way that only true musical partners can, skipping over the beat. Yet he never makes the song his own, and it fizzles out before really going anywhere interesting. Easily the poppiest number on the album, ‘Damselfly’ may make good radio fare, but fans of both artists may be disappointed.
Following this, another side step, to ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’, one of a number of recyclees from Carner’s A Little Late EP. Truly a fan favourite – I saw an entire venue of eager hip-hop-heads rap every word back – ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ is the essence of the artist himself: erudite, passionate, soulful. Carner doesn’t swear much, but you really feel it when he does. This is perhaps the best example on the record of the music augmenting Carner’s lyrics, the swelling horns and simple yet powerful chorus sounding unlike anything else in hip-hop right now. When he gets it right, Carner really gets it right.
Featured image: Line of Best Fit.