Part of Loyle Carner's appeal is the soulful tinge that sets him apart from most UK rappers. With that in mind, Not Waving, But Drowning takes us on a musical journey that matches the mental struggle of life with poignant sound. Loyle's sophomore album built on the foundations set by Yesterday's Gone in a way I didn't think possible. Although his style is unique, it seems as if he homed in on what gives him his flair on his latest project.
Listening to albums in the numbered order is something I usually do on the first play, before selecting my favourite songs. In this case, I refrained from choosing standout songs because of the collective, altogether effect. The 15-track LP is somewhat of a guide to life. Track by track, Loyle is sharing his experiences to show us what not to do, or rather to keep us from Not Waving, But Drowning. You could still pick your favourite songs but the experience is in another realm when the cohesiveness is allowed to run its course.
In true hypocritical fashion, Desoleil (Brilliant Corners) was a personal favourite and had an overall feel to it that the other songs didn't. A typical trait that lets you know you're listening to Loyle Carner is his diction, and the way it complements the jazzy undertones he is so fond of. His trademark still came through on Desoleil but in a different manner. This is most likely due to the featured artist. Sampha is predictable. The post-SBTRKT Sampha is likely to give you slow, airy runs with a piano in the background. Sound familiar? Yes, we know what Sampha brings to the table but being predictable isn't always a bad thing. What he does bring, he brings well and to the point that other great artists will alter their sound to complement his- and that's exactly what the South London rapper did. The fact that it wasn't what is normally expected from him is what makes the song that bit more special.
It wasn't hard to tell that the features throughout were deliberate and carefully selected. From Jordan Rakei on Ottolenghi to Jorja Smith on Loose Ends, his collaborations tended to be of the singing persuasion. The difference between the other features and Sampha was that they brought their music and fused it with what Loyle already had to offer. If you took Loyle's verses away from Loose Ends, it could easily be a song that you would expect to see on Jorja's album. Finding a seamless blend of two styles is tough but to do it numerous times on a single body of work is a completely different story.
It's impossible to mention Loyle Carner without referencing Tom Misch somewhere in the conversation. Songs like Damselfly, Water Baby and Crazy Dream have solidified their place as a duo in the industry. Still, their great chemistry in and outside of the booth continues to produce fruitful results. Angel is melodically a breath of fresh air to a deep and mellow album. As for the lyrics, it is right on theme- describing the relationship between the haters and the hated,
"Like the fire needs air, I won't burn unless you're there"
Sound familiar? It's a sample from 50 Cent's Hustler's Ambition and it ties the perfect bow around the concept Misch and Carner are trying to capture. The people that hate on what you do double up as your blessings in disguise or your 'Angels' because a part of the drive is proving people wrong.
The project ends on a more optimistic note with Dear Ben, signing Loyle out as a guide to our lives. It brings everything to a thought-provoking and introspective close, without the pessimistic stigma surrounding health and upkeep. It's almost as if he's saying, things do get better.