Loyle Carner is a name that won’t be new to many of you. Even before his stunning debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, this man had supported the likes of Kate Tempest, MF Doom and Joey Badass. He established himself before all the trappings of ‘success’ had caught him up. Instead of releasing music and waiting for the fish to bite, he stormed onto the scene and gained a fierce following of both lay people and cheiftan’s of the biz. So, what makes this guy so great, bro? Looks like I’m about to tell y’all.
Loyle Carner (or Benjamin Coyle-Larner as he’s actually called), has a gift with words. His lazy, feel-good flow is often painfully counteracted with heart-wrenching lyrics of love, loss, family and friendship in its rawest forms. Pain is etched into this album with intricate care, apparent in the subtle breaking of his voice or the perfect use of wordplay. Carner moulds the language he uses with a sensitive hand, shaping vignettes of those around him that capture not only his perspective but his empathy for theirs. His inner struggles are presented honestly, without embellishment or self-indulgence. This masterpiece of soul, told through the medium of laid-back hip hop, is charged with emotion and yet brim full of wit.
“The Isle of Arran”, the opening track on the album, samples a gospel choir, inevitably singing about the redemption to be found in God. The song is a perfect example of Carner’s wisdom, reaching far beyond his 21 years. He weaves faith troubles into the narrative of his own loss and the struggles of family life. With his biological father gone, and his beloved stepdad passing in 2014, the theme of father figures is recurring for Carner and underscores much of his emotional material.
“The Seamstress” has as much passionate weight as the opener. The flow on this track is irresistible, the rhythm and placement of words mummered in a stream of consciousness style. The subject of drinking ties in neatly with the flow, which undulates and pours itself over the jazzy production. Shout out to Loyle Carner’s cat, who has the privilege of being a cat-on-the-wall when Carner’s cooking up sweet sweet music.
But it’s not just tears that Carner can provoke, he’s also able to create witty portrayals of his plaintive surroundings. “Stars & Shards”, with its funking funk filled backdrop (I’m guessing Tom Misch had something to do with this?), describes the messy, uncertain life of a drug dealer. Bars like, “cutting more lines than disabled kids up in Thorpe Park”, are so on it that I get tingles in my toesies. He has the ability to turn the story of a dead-beat figure into a hotbed of sage bars that accumulate into a vivid image of real life.
And of course the old greats, those tracks Carner released well before his debut album. “NO CD” is a tribute to the rap legends of the 90s, infinitely relatable to anyone that has spent time grooving to the greats in the safety of their messy rooms. “Ain’t Nothing Changed” is a defiant middle finger to the oppressive side of the music industry. “Florence” is a beautiful imagining of the bond between sister and brother, “know I’m only one pancake away”. Is there anything this man can’t turn to gold?
Undoubtedly, the crowning tracks of the sensitive side of the album are “Mrs C” and “Sun Of Jean”. The first is a tribute to a friend’s mother suffering from cancer. Considered, thoughtful and ultimately one of his most moving tracks. Carner is underset by simple bongos, piano and a mournful saxophone solo that carries the entire song into weeping territory. “Sun Of Jean” includes piano playing from his stepdad and potentially the sweetest poem ever, written and recited by his mum. The song is an intense analysis of family life that reveals itself shyly but with characteristic grace.
As a first album, there is nothing to do but congratulate.
Peace and jamz,