ALBUM REVIEW: London Grammar – ‘Californian Soil’

Words by Emily Hollitt {Emily Hollitt – Content Writer} + {Malina Claire}

Feeling as though she was hiding her story behind her two male counterparts Dan Rothman and Dot Major, London Grammar’s frontwoman Hannah Reid wrote an email to her bandmates after their ‘Truth is Beautiful Tour’. In it she stated that in order to combat her need to make music and fear of showing others, that she needed to become the band’s leader. “I feel like I am hiding my story too much behind you two” she said. And thus, ‘Californian Soil’ was born.

On what inspired the record, Reid said; “The music industry is moving into a new generation. But the old generation is still powerful. If you’re a ‘lady’ singer with an ethereal voice, that old school still assumes that the boys must take care of everything else” she says. Major continues, stating “The message of this record is about the experience of being a woman”. Calling it “a feminist record”, Reid states;

This record is about gaining possession of my own life. You imagine success will be amazing. Then you see if from the inside and ask, why am I not controlling this thing? Why am I not allowed to be in control of it? And does that connect, in any way to being a woman? If so, how can I do that differently?”.

Intro fittingly opens the record, immediately drawing the listener in. Reid’s voice coo’s gently over atmospheric music – almost like something off of the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings. Emotive, cinematic strings follow suit. Simple and beautiful. Guitar driven title-track California Soil follows suit, with instrumentation and production similar to Massive Attack. Missing continues, with a similar approach to production. “Everybody’s got their own idea of right and wrong, with arms wide open” she sings, commenting on the current political landscape. “I worry that one you’ll go missing. And who will notice when you’re gone?”

“You say you miss me now. What a way to lose your head” sings Reid in the choruses to Lose Your Head. “There’s a place, I see it in your head. Full of evil, baby. Can you see all those parts of me?” she sings in the second verse, acknowledging the scariest parts of being completely vulnerable with somebody you love intimately. This track is more dance-centric and repetitive than the previous songs, with beautifully constructed harmonies, without losing the cinematic quality permeating the record so far. Standout of the record Lord It’s A Feeling follows, commenting on the toxic male culture that permeates the mistreatment of women in relationships. Covering the way women are manipulated and used by their partners, and how Reid feels solidarity with the women who come to her with these stories. “Lord it’s a feeling that I’ve felt”. “I saw the way you made her feel like she should be somebody else” she poses. “If it’s convenient for you, you want her love, she’ll give you more. That’s when your words are so convincing. Say you’ll until she’s sure that you will change”. The production holds elements of gospel music, aiding to the idea of solidarity between the women and the way they connect over these stories.

How Does It Feel is the most dance-centric track on the record. “Do you think about me when you’re all alone?” she poses in the pre-chorus. She sings about an ex-lover, wondering if they still think of her now they’ve ended, and if they ever feel the need to call her up. “How does it feel, now that I’m gone?”. The drop in this track is infectious. “All these painted faces singing back to me. There’s an ocean here, but you’re all I see. And nothing else matters” sings Reid in the second verse of Baby It’s You. A gentle ode to falling in love, the song uses electronic, upbeat production to juxtapose Hannah’s soft, brooding vocals to create something that just feels good to listen. The song sounds exactly the way that loving somebody deeply feels.

“Every time I try to make myself feel small in the arms of others, they never love you better. Every time I tried to make myself seem empty, it never made them stay. It only made them hurt me”

She sings in Call Your Friends, detailing the way she has learnt to make herself ‘small’ to fit the mold of others in relationships, a common feeling for female partners. “The ones before you make it hard to love at all” she sings, addressing the after effects of these past relationships that have invited her to lessen herself so someone else can be larger. All My Love sings of a different kind of relationship, somebody from her childhood. “I feel all of your energy as it starts to fade from you, and I see all your shadow in pieces on the floor. People, they want more from you and I see all shadow” she sings. “All my love” she sings in the choruses, indicating she wants to pour all of her love in to this person to help them out of their dark feelings.

A gorgeous yet dark piano melody opens Talking. “All of these changes keep on following me. Visions that wake me relentless. Leaders mean nothing to me” she sings. Addressing how divisive the current political landscape is, and how disconnected people are, the song speaks about how, if everything ended, all we would have is each other. An ode to human connectivity.

“There is a voice, it is chastising me. I was so cold, what had become of me? Take all your limbs and wrap them round your neck. So they all laugh at your predicament. All of the boys and girls, all people in this world. Give me a dream and I will give you my word”

Reid opens in I Need The Night, directly addressing the anxiety and belittling she faces as a woman in music, usually in rooms filled with men. She covers how she internalized all of these feelings and microaggressions, and has tried to mold herself to fit the needs and expectations of others. In the second verse, she shifts the narrative, saying women are becoming more powerful. More in control. “There’s a whisper that our God is a she”. America closes the record, making an on-the-nose point about the record’s theme. In her own words, Reid says that

“Misogyny is primitive, which is why it is so hard to change. But it is also fearful. It’s about rejecting the thing in yourself which is vulnerable or feminine… the Patchwork of America reflects the experience I’ve had… the darkest underbelly of the country has risen to the top. But if you look at it from the road, America is still the most beautiful country”.

Dan continues this thought saying, “The record is about the death of the American Dream. The death of our American Dream. The poisoning of old power structures that served nobody. Toxic masculinity is now synonymous with those old fairytales”.

Thus, making America the perfect food-for-thought to finish a record that has already said so much. The perfect closing statement. “But all of our time chasing America. But she never had a home for me”.

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With thanks to Daydream Nation

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