Of the buzz bands that have come through in 2013, London Grammar’s rise has probably been the most steady and natural. They formed in 2009 when vocalist Hannah Reid and Dan Rothman met at university, adding keyboard player Dot Major later, and initially played small gigs at local bars. Things started to pick up last year when the trio posted single Hey Now on YouTube.
The song, which currently has almost 950,000 plays, led to much blog recognition. They consolidated their up-and-coming status with debut EP Metal & Dust in February. Yet the song that really showed what London Grammar could do was the stunning Wasting My Young Years – which made it to Number 31 in the UK Charts – with Reid’s mesmerising vocal delivering an emotional sucker punch.
Now, following a busy summer, which included two sell-out gigs in London and several performances on the UK summer festival circuit, the band are ready to release their much-anticipated debut record If You Wait. The album opens, appropriately, with that atmospheric first single Hey Now, a song that has understandably led to comparisons with The xx. The song’s ticking guitar combined with Reid’s classically beautiful vocal really makes for a breathtaking opening.
It’s important to emphasise just how integral Reid’s vocal is to London Grammar – something that was very clear in the band’s first few releases. As demonstrated by Wasting My Young Years, her vocal dominates the very minimal instrumentation, but at no point does it feel overbearing. “Don’t you know that it’s only fear/ I wouldn’t worry, you have all your life,” she sings, over the delicate piano, before the song edges towards its sublime chorus.
However, as important as Reid’s vocal is, London Grammar are more than adept at building their intricate and haunting arrangements around it. The band’s latest single Strong is a prime example, with another breathless Reid vocal complimented by a sparse guitar riff, a simple repetitive beat and melodic piano keys, as she sings: “Excuse me for a while/ While I’m wide eyed and so damn caught in the middle.”
Although the singles released by London Grammar show the band at their best, the rest of the album is not made up of filler material. Other highlights include the slow-burner Nightcall, which revolves centrally around gentle piano keys until it moves towards a conclusion draped in grandeur, while Sights is another powerful ballad that further demonstrates some of the similarities between the vocals of Reid and Florence Welch.
If there is an issue to be raised with London Grammar’s debut, it is unquestionably concerning the lack of variety throughout the record. Few risks are taken and the music often feels restrained within set boundaries, with songs such as Shyer and Stay Awake drifting along rather harmlessly without ever threatening to do anything of interest. As a result, the album does stagnate at times – that is, until songs such as the Massive Attack-influenced Metal & Dust really show what they can do.
In some ways, it is a shame that London Grammar didn’t experiment more with their sound. While the arrangements are often beautifully atmospheric – creating a coherency throughout the record – it does feel too often like the band are limiting themselves. But overall, If You Wait is an accomplished first LP, one that features a number of spellbinding singles and some moments of genuine, heartfelt emotion. Perhaps more importantly, though, it confirms that London Grammar definitely have a bright future.