On an inner journey through post-coming of age struggle, South London’s Loyle Carner takes a thrilling step up on his second record, Not Waving, But Drowning.
Just over two years since the release of his Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Yesterday’s Gone, Loyle has created an immersive record that shines a light on the trials and tribulations of success. With a title inspired by one of his grandfather’s poems, he has etched his name further into the fabric of music, creating a wholesome space of honesty that has the ability to inspire positivity while tackling heavy themes of pain and frustration.
While his debut focussed on various obstacles the now 24-year old had faced while growing up, including his ADHD, defeatism and his daydreaming of caring for a little sister; his follow-up simultaneously serves as a thank you to his mother and a love letter to his partner as he glues the chapters of this record together with short audio clips of his personal life, candid conversations with taxi drivers and an eye-watering poem from his mother on closing track “Dear Ben”.
Many music critics and media outlets had tried to predict what sound would come from Loyle on his second album, however, he kept mum at every opportunity despite his participation in various projects from his work with Yves Saint Laurent as the face of their new aftershave to working closely with Levi’s Music Project. What we hear on Not Waving, But Drowning is a sound closer to his E.P, A Little Late, than his first album; he even brings back Kiko Bun on single “You Don’t Know”. The fast pace of songs like “No CD” is absent as Loyle finds comfort with the piano as a way of leading the album.
While the sombre tone of these 15 tracks may result in some listeners skipping through in search of something energetic, what lies at the end of this record for those with patience is a truly beautiful collection of stories built through pensive soliloquy as a means of exploring abrasive subjects. On “Krispy”, Loyle pulls back the curtain on a difficult relationship with his creative partner, Rebel Kleff.
The track was supposed to create a truce between the artists, but after Rebel failed to show up, the song became a solo confession of appreciation for his best friend with Loyle capping off the track stating, “So now what / I can’t wait another hour boss / Give a fuck about the money or the E Track / I just want my G back.”.
Loyle is a storyteller at heart, a poet with a deep love of hip-hop that forms an unbridled approach to song-structure. In moments, this sporadic mix of subject matter and juxtaposing influences can become too much to digest in one sitting, however, the sheer brilliance in musicianship and the number of perfectly curated features from the likes of Tom Misch, Jorja Smith, Sampha and Jordan Rakei are more than enough to convince you to stay.
Littered with leitmotif and instrumentality braver than anything Loyle has previously released, what keeps this trailblazer in motion is his raw ability. As an artist and especially as a wordsmith, Loyle is able to create pockets of melody that ebb and flow in unpredictive fashion. This is true of every song on this record, however, none more so than “Looking Back” where Loyle grapples with his search for identity after losing contact with his black biological father, and his white step-father tragically died of epilepsy while Loyle was still young. This had a dramatic effect on his journey to manhood, leading him to step in as a breadwinner from an early age, a topic which his mother touches on again on “Dear Ben”.
Truthfully, Loyle could have continued to tour his debut for another couple of years as it cements itself as an essential part of modern music, however, this introspective and brutally intimate record comes at an opportune moment for the young artist who has taken a step further into his own world instead of branching out to appeal to new audiences.