From under-the-radar uploads to sold-out headline shows to covering Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ for Radio 1’s Live Lounge, London Grammar’s unlikely ascent towards critical and commercial success has been one of the year’s biggest breakout stories. Under normal circumstances it should never have happened this way, for they entered 2013 neck-and-neck with their underground peers.
Just over a year to this day the band quietly uploaded their first song ‘Hey Now’ to soundcloud after a series of low-key gigs in and around their native Nottingham. It’s just as resonant as it was upon first listen – sparse yet strong, quietly capturing the zeitgeist that is disillusioned youth on the cusp of adulthood – but whereas most of their counterparts rested on one sole single to gain momentum, this trio played it smart. Indeed, though fresh out of University London Grammar are that rare breed of buzz band – the kind with the confidence and foresight to have a debut album already written and ready to go.
Meticulously conceived, If You Wait is a testament to finding one’s niche and executing it with precision. Cherry picking from the most innovative British music of the past decade – Portishead’s trip-hop pioneering, The xx’s slow-burning bedroom pop, Alt-J’s recasting of folk – London Grammar infuse these genres with the one thing they all lack. That common denominator is a voice like lead singer Hannah Reid’s, a husky yet emotive contralto that acts as a counterpoint to the band’s downbeat atmospherics.
Its high watermarks are many: their impassioned rendition of Kavinsky’s ‘Nightcall’, complete with a sampled drum ‘n’ bass breakdown; the Imogen Heap-esque vocal slicing during ‘Metal & Dust”s soaring climax; the way in which ‘Shyer’ builds and layers into an unrelenting mid-tempo glide; Reid’s captivating vocal performance on ‘Wasting My Young Years’ – in every instance London Grammar are a band working in tandem. Reid may be their big draw, but guitarist Dan Rothman and multi-instrumentalist Dot Major’s contributions are as striking as they are streamlined.
Often unfairly branded ‘same-y’ by some publications, such criticism should only be reserved for bands two or three albums into their careers. Not since The xx’s 2009 debut has a British band introduced themselves with such maturity and self-assuredness, and for that, London Grammar deserve all the crossover attention they’ve been receiving as of late.