A love letter to family, relationships, loss and even the England squad’s magnificent attempt at last year’s World Cup, Loyle Carner’s new album embodies the art of spoken word in a manner that is a breath of fresh air in the industry.
Not Waving, But Drowning is the much-anticipated second album by the 24-year-old, and it certainly does not disappoint. Born Benjamin Coyle-Larner, his stage name is a reference to his childhood struggle with ADHD and dyslexia, and a combination of his double-barrelled surname.
Dripping in references to his South London upbringing and his love for his mum, the album has an almost unfinished feel, but certainly not in a bad way. The unpolished rhythm and studio conversations make it raw and genuine, the vulnerability of growing from a “boy to man” is something that arguably pushes him miles ahead of his peers.
But vulnerability is nothing new to the musician. A self-proclaimed mummy’s boy; Loyle Carner was raised by his mother, Jean who also features on the album, and stepfather Nik, who passed away just seven months before the debut EP A Little Late was released in September 2014. On BFG he raps: “Everybody says I’m f*ckin’ sad. Of course I’m f*ckin’ sad, I miss my f*ckin’ dad.”
In a world so afraid to talk about mental health, particularly the stigmas around a man’s struggle, Carner’s openness is beyond refreshing. From rapping about mourning a longstanding friendship in Krispy to the album’s namesake, a Stevie Smith poem about a man whose cheerful exterior conceals a much darker interior.
Intertwined with conversations with a taxi driver and cheers as England win their first penalty shootout in a very, very long time, you will find intrinsic piano loops, classic hip hop beats and hypnotising lyrical intellect.
One of the strongest tracks on the album isn’t even Loyle himself, but instead features the work of his mother, Jean Coyle-Larner. A whisper of memoirs from your yester years, Dear Ben is one of those tracks that cripples you with recognition, although a poem to her eldest son, as a listener you can’t help but share in the mother and son experiences.
A true work of art, a skill Mrs Coyle-Larner has clearly passed onto her son, I won’t blame you if you at any point you get chills or have to take a moment to take a breath.
New Narrative recommends: Angel (Featuring Tom Misch), Ice Water, Still and Dear Ben.