Yesterday is too late to be listening to the debut album of Croydon-raised 21 year-old Loyle Carner, “Yesterday’s Gone”. The album was released at the end of January, and I would put good money on this being the start of a very long, successful musical trajectory.
A deeply personal album, Carner approaches each song with grace, sensitivity and a contagious energy. The Guardian once described his music as “confessional hip-hop”, a label that he has since joked about, but it hits the nail on the proverbial head.
There is a refreshing realness about an upcoming musician devoting extensive album time to his mum, for whom he shows intense admiration and love. The 34-second spoken interlude, Swear, is a powerfully endearing yet normal conversation; Carner teases her, they jokingly bicker and she seeks his advice about which boots to wear.
Ordinary and injected with real love: that’s what is so appealing about this album – it somehow manages to hijack your emotions. Whether he’s ruminating on the everyday, familial love, problems with alcohol, death or partying, he takes you with him through his thoughts and experiences, moving between profound emotion, sensitive observation and easy humour.
The Isle of Arran sets the album off to a dynamic, driven step; with a fairly uncomplicated backing track and beautiful gospel voices, Carner is confident, opinionated yet casual and immediately commands attention. Straight off the mark he confides in us about his absent father and departed girlfriend, but what becomes increasingly clear is his clarity of perspective; what’s important and what isn’t. Love trumps hate. The album cover sums it up nicely, a wide shot photo of his close family and friends.
He progresses with the sleepy Mean It In The Morning, fading out with the optimistic ‘I’ll be the lucky one’. +44 is a spoken minute-and-a-half about getting intimate with females and sending that well-known late-night text – he’s one of us, sometimes lonely, sometimes horny, sometimes embarrassed.
In a friendship that gives Obama and Joe Biden a run for their money, Loyle Carner and Tom Misch’s collaborative efforts over the years see their fruition in Damselfly, a track full of jazzy licks and the reflexive dialogue typical of the rising star.
One of the most poetically commanding tracks on the album is Florence, which opens as he addresses an imaginary little sister. Warmth and affection find grounding in his boyish voice and his linguistic mastery as he serenades ‘my little freckle-faced fidgeter/me but miniature’. Time and time again, Carner sets the trivial against the emotionally charged – here the supportive older brother, ‘tell her eat her spinach and she’ll see the skies the limit’.
At his album release at Rough Trade in Nottingham, Carner, or to use his real name, Benjamin Coyle-Larner (yes his name is a spoonerism, so now you can impress people with both a fun fact and use the word spoonerism) performed to a room of excited, young souls. When Carner finally appeared, to the joy of the crowd who were jostling for space, it was clear he was equally as excited to perform and seemed humbly surprised to have gathered such a large fan base.
Introducing Ain’t Nothing Changed, Carner confessed the story behind this song, both shedding light on a lot of the album’s content and reaffirming his very chilled and very fanciable character. Apparently someone told him that his material was all too similar, he needed to make it more glamorous, since he talks predominantly about his dad, his mum, his friends, daily stress and money problems. Upon considering this feedback he came to the just realisation that…in fact, ain’t nothing changed. Assertive in his musical direction, hopefully this is something that will endure as he inevitably becomes more popular and pressurised into the mainstream arena.
Not to neglect one of the album’s better known, energetic numbers, NO CD, featuring features Rebel Kleff with drums and a guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a rock band. Suddenly, perhaps for intentional impact, we’re taken through to Mrs C, a song devoted to a friend and her mother who died from cancer; Carner is so respectful, letting the soulful sound of a trumpet offer its condoling voice.
Sun of Jean is mellow, passing by almost unnoticed until his mum takes over; she recites early memories of his childhood, ‘a scribble of a boy…a two-foot tale of trouble…a cartwheeling chatterbox of tricks…my band-aid boy’.
By this point, if you haven’t already fallen in love with what seems to be an all round very good person, his mum steps in to confirm his loving energy, albeit the excessive energy resulting from ADHD.
Sidenote: Loyle has set up a project for children with ADHD to take cooking classes and direct their vigour into something productive. Obviously, it’s called Chilli Con Carner.
The album closer, Yesterday’s Gone, is contemplative and folky, letting us reflect on the experience and just how cool Loyle Carner really is.
Massively versatile in its listening context, whether it’s in the shower, on your daily travels, 5am with friends, 5pm with friends, this album has it covered as it teeters between a sociable, dynamic vibe and a reflexive, pensive edge. Loyle Carner is on the cusp of something massive, that much is sure. So, it seems a poignant moment to pause and appreciate this album, intensely confessional, easy on the ears and a bit rough around the edges.
words by Lorna Powell