If I’m having a confessional rap moment, Loyle Carner has inched his way into my consciousness at just the right time. Carner has long been a fixture with his kind of deep, uninflected rhymes breathing more life into the already lush soundscapes of Tom Misch. His might be my favourite pronunciation of ‘Fifa’ (or, more likely, the only pronunciation of ‘Fifa’) I’ve ever heard on a recorded track. I guess it’s just taken some time, or the onset of bitter winter weather, to remember why it is I like his sound so much. American rap is all about showmanship and gimmickry. Australian rap is often obsessed with musicality and jingoistic symbolism. British rap, by contrast, has been plunged into the same class warfare as the rest of the country and, being rap, it emerged even saltier, even more downcast, more introspective. Rather than cricket, BBC documentaries or meat pies, the conditions in Britain are perfect for creating raw, evocative rap.
Carner’s debut, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, released earlier this year, is chocked full of reality in a way that suggests that the album shouldn’t have sold in the way that it did, even if it lends itself to the critical acclaim that was heaped on it. On skits like ‘Swear’, we get Carner confronting his mother about how her history of swearing is the reason he curses so much in his songs. The next track, ‘Florence’, is an ode to his unborn sister. Somehow, Carner manages to put together an entire album of thoughtful, deeply personal songs in a genre that tends to view such displays of unbridled sentimentality as unfortunately emasculating. Much of the way he’s able to get away with it, I think, has to do with the earnestness of the enterprise. One never gets the sense, at any point during a full-album listen, that Carner is mining experience or emotion for exploitative purposes; rather, the album seems like a frame, shaped just right to fit contents that were going to be aired through one form of artistic expression or another.
There’s no denying, however, that Carner’s delivery has a lot to do with it, too. It’s rare to describe a rapper’s flow as mournful, but I think the adjective fits Loyle’s timbre to a tee. Bookended by a gospel choir that sets the confessional atmosphere, Carner weaves between references to religion and family so deftly that it’s difficult at times to distinguish just which father he’s reprimanding for leaving him wanting. If all of this sounds like too much – religion and family and, necessarily, archly biographical lyricism all rolled into one – listen to ‘The Isle Of Arran’. Carner has made an art of rendering the personal publicly palatable, and the painful inherently listenable. Which is not to say that this is going to be the track you’re going to jam in the gym. But Carner has a delicate touch with difficult subjects, meaning that ‘Isle of Arran’ won’t knock you out every time you listen to it like it does the first time, either. At only 23, Loyle Carner carries burdens that belie his years, but he also has the maturity to handle them.
Loyle Carner – The Isle of Arran