A Rainy Day Record
Loyle Carner’s (Ben Coyle-Larner) debut is a sensitive and solemn look at his life, narrated with warts and all, over jazz infused guitar riffs. A welcome contrast from the slurring ‘drank’ infused, Future-istic mumble (c)rap from across the pond, and cut from a different cloth as the High Focus Record’s roster on home turf, what we see here is a man forging his own path on a crowded platform. The honesty and intimacy of the album as a whole is what places Carner in a field of his own. He tells a tale of a boy struggling to deal with the loss of his stepfather and his absent father. “Yesterday’s Gone” appears to be an emotional release for Carner, reflecting on a life spent as a disciple of the old school, binging on Dilla beats and A Tribe Called Quest.
Carner starts us off with the impressive “Isle of Arran”, serving up a portion of grief and family turmoil, his teary voice and flow sit heavy with emotion and nostalgia. This is backed up by a stunning gospel sample from S.C.I. Youth Choir’s ‘The Lord Will Make My Way’. While it is the same sample used on Dr.Dre’s 2015 ‘It’s All On Me’ (the production is similar enough to blur the line between inspiration and imitation) it fits this poignant and striking opener perfectly. This ambitious start to the album certainly sets the melancholic tone for much of “Yesterday’s Gone”. Another highlight is “Damselfy”, produced and featuring Carner’s close friend Tom Misch – whose jazz influenced riffs sit melodically on the baseline with Misch owning the hook at just the right pitch to keep the track together. We could easily be getting “dizzy off that Jay Dee” with Dilla style beats comfortably accompanying Carner’s flow.
Bath time with Ben is always a ball
“Ain’t Nothing Changed” is one of the stand out singles of the album, an understated tale harking back to Carner’s days of student loans and “sittin in the student home”. The smooth sax-filled track was released some time ago and is nothing new to our ears but remains a highlight of the album nonetheless. A change in gear comes with “Stars and Shards”, which delivers a saga of drugs and dealing but stripped of all the theatrics of hip-hop’s normal glamorizations. It paints a bleak picture, once again backed up by Carner’s intricate flow and a bold guitar riff backing him up. Unfortunately for long-time fans, we had heard all these big hitters before in the form of singles, which is a shame – but as a debut album, it is clear the album is attempting to gain fans, rather than please existing ones.
Of the new stuff on the record there was still much to be enjoyed. “No Worries” is a definite stand out of these, with Kleff’s eclectic production at its best accompanied by a less inspiring verse by rapper Jehst who fails to match the skilled lyricism of his host. The gloomy theme of “Yesterday’s Gone” is re-enforced in “Seamstress” where Carner paints a self-portait of an old soul “sinkin a lot of whiskey” and talking of his “drinking problem”. Another downbeat, but impressive, backing track is used from Rebel Kleff to accompany this personal tale of reflection. As we turn the corner on the album for the final straight, ‘Mrs C’ is a late highlight. Another vulnerable track about loss, for his girlfriend, who’s mother was ill with cancer. The most stripped back of the album, centrally it has bongo drums hammering in the background with gentle piano and trumpets accompanying. It feels like another deeply personal and emotional tribute from Carner, re-establishing this album as one for sentimental reflections on a rainy afternoon. Starting a Hip-Hop track with “we just supported Nas” in most cases would lead us down a route of inflated ego’s and grandstanding, but in “Sun of Jean” we are given the opposite. A backing track of mournful piano recorded from his late stepfather and a poem of spoken word from his mother. This family tribute ends the record leaving us filled with nostalgia and longing. Skits are nothing new to Hip-Hop, but being called “you shmoo” by your mother on your debut in “Swear” is a break apart from the gunshots and violence in the skits of yesteryear. In Rebel 101, Carner is told to “eat bad food, party” by Rebel Kleff in another amusing skit recorded on his phone. These interludes that develop over the course of the record forge a further closeness between Carner and the listener - he certainly tops the list of rappers I want to get a pint with.
While I would like to rave endlessly about how much I enjoy this record, it isn’t completely solid. The tempo changes somewhat when we are thrust in to an alt-rock backing track and Carner’s forceful lyrics in “NO CD”. Another tribute to his heroes: “got some old Jay Z’s, couple ODBs” is repeated throughout the track, this time supported with an overloaded bassline without the old school beats to help out, which means the track fails to capture the charm of the rest of the album. Although it is a weaker track of the record, it portrays the dexterity of both Kleff and Carner to adapting to new forms. The laid-back “Mean It In The Morning” tells a downbeat tale of Carner’s romantic woes with another unconvincing backing track. The jury is out on whether this track is worthy of the album, or whether it was put in to bulk out the slim tracklist. The main frustration of the album for most fans is the lack of new material on the record, but leaving us wanting more is never too bad a thing.
Despite the lack of fresh material and a couple of weaker tracks, this jazz-infused collection of personal tales and ingenious rhymes is a real triumph from Carner. A truly refreshing break from the self-promoting show-biz rap which is clogging up the Hip-Hop scene across the pond. There is definitely a feeling in the air that this is only the beginning for Loyle Carner and the 22 year old from Croydon could easily go all the way to the top.
Words by: Ted