Loyle Carner // Not Waving, But Drowning
Loyle Carner isn’t your average rapper. He raps about his mother a lot, chooses mellow, soul-and-jazz-influenced instrumentals, and stays after his shows to help clean up. His second full-length album, Not Waving But Drowning, is a brilliant exhibition of Carner’s abilities, and improves on all of the strengths of his debut. Carner bears his heart on his sleeve while he finds yet further emotional depth in his poetic verses over delicate pianos and soft old-school beats.
Carner’s voice rarely rises above a subdued, conversational drawl when he rhymes. His razor-sharp flow bears a unique storytelling style that’s honest and inviting, despite the grim, challenging emotional spaces he often explores. With the linguistic sensibilities of an author, the emotional nuance and lyrical efficiency of a poet, and the genial nature of a good friend, Carner draws the bigger emotions out of much smaller, seemingly insignificant things.
He originally pursued acting before dropping out of acting school to take care of his mother and stepbrother when his stepfather died. This background in acting might explain Carner’s deft emotional & narrative instincts.
The instrumental half of Not Waving But Drowning is just as rich, featuring stripped-back, mellowed-out, jazz-and-soul-influenced beats. Their skeletal, minimal construction leaves most of the space to be filled by Carner’s words and their depth and complexity.
The album has an analog, live-sound feel, lending the music a gritty, “real” quality which underscores the emotive, honest content of Carner’s stories. The production also features candid recordings of a conversation between Carner and his friends, which serve the same purpose, reinforcing the vulnerable atmosphere of Not Waving But Drowning.
Much of Carner’s concerns, reflected in Not Waving But Drowning, are about mental health. The album explores this through personal relationships and the support system they create, as well as the value of emotional vulnerability — particularly in men. Suicide is the number one cause of death for men under 45 in the UK, and Carner is deeply aware of this, having campaigned for CALM (Campaign Against Miserable Living), a mental health foundation.
Carner is far from most rappers. He isn’t concerned with being “the best rapper,” preferring to focus on the musical and emotional merit of his music. He won’t collaborate with musicians he doesn’t know, refusing to work with the biggest names in UK rap like Dave and Stormzy. He even once turned down an unnamed Jay-Z affiliate’s offer because he didn’t know him. This uncompromising dedication to his art distinguishes his music from the rest. As you hear Carner navigate racial identity, personal relationships and growing fame in Not Waving But Drowning, you get the sense that no one else could tell these stories quite the same.
Gus Dapperton // Where Polly People Go to Read
If you haven’t yet been introduced, Gus Dapperton will knock your socks off with his first full-length studio album, Where Polly People Go to Read. It’s a debut that rides off of the massive hype generated from EPs You Think You’re a Comic and Yellow and Such.
Gus takes another step up on Where Polly People Go to Read, establishing himself as a force in the genreless modern music industry. In a world where music consumption has become more defined by an artist’s ability to pop off at you with a song or two, Dapperton does well to create an album full of longing emotion, as dream-pop synths drench wailing, hopeful vocals.
Where Polly People Go to Read is tough to write about because it’s easy to get caught up in describing the intimate details of each track’s production, but the more important lesson lies within the pure feeling that Gus gives off. It’s like a re-up on what emo music is supposed to be in a more modern age, full of synths and reverbs that feel more like what it feels to be in your feels as a person with an iPhone.
The tracklist is highlighted by single “My Favorite Fish,” a track inspired by the “there’s always more fish in the sea” expression. The music video is perfect for the song, as Gus and his SO drive across a body of water on his motorboat, as the video starts and ends from a doc lined by backup singers. Crooning, “soft-spoken,” vocals from Dapperton along with a solemn guitar lead invite listeners into the song, and it’s not long before the track develops, and the refrain of “Soft-spoken / Chipper and choking,” hits at the peak of the track, making for one of the best moments on the album.
While the fish-themed single might be a peak, there isn’t a low point on Where Polly People Go to Read. It’s clear that Dapperton took his time with this one, as full instrumentation and heart-wrenching delivery dots every single track.
Don’t be surprised when you start hearing murmurs of “You heard the new Gus Dapperton?” around your local liberal arts college or youthful thrift store. And while he might appeal most to young Gen Z-ers searching for their place in the world, this new album has the strength to reach a much wider audience.
Pivot Gang // You Can’t Sit With Us
Pivot Gang might be the newest, biggest city-based rap group in modern rap after their debut album, You Can’t Sit With Us. As the title might imply, the group isn’t taking itself too seriously, instead opting to use their brotherly chemistry in tandem with a great touch of clever lyricism to power their introductory work.
Saba, Joseph Chilliams, MFnMelo, Frsh Waters, squeakPIVOT, and daedaePIVOT, each with differing levels of fame and influence on each other’s projects through the group’s seven-year existence, combine to create one of the better collective albums in recent years.
After singles “Blood,” “Jason Statham Pt. 2,” and “Studio Ground Rules,” Pivot set the table for an album that would bounce between sounds, providing tunes for a relaxed Sunday, paired with tracks that show off each member’s dexterous flows, especially shown by Saba’s performance on “Mortal Kombat,” and Joseph Chilliams’ on “Jason Statham Pt. 2.”
“Carnival,” featuring Sylvan LaCue and Benjamin Earl Turner turns out to be a great ender to the project, as Joseph Chilliams puts up one of the funniest verses on the album, followed seamlessly by Saba, LaCue, and Turner as each artist drops word-heavy verses on top of a swelling instrumental that cuts off somewhat abruptly after the last verse, hopefully implying that there’s more to come.
If you’ve liked Saba albums in the past, or anything else by Pivot, this is an album you want to check out. The group is energetic, charismatic, and You Can’t Sit With Us is a testament to their abilities to create a project chock-full of clean production, buttery flows, and entertaining bars.
Other new releases worth checking out
Lizzo // Cuz I Love You
Goodie Mob // No Rain No Rainbows
Jaden Smith // ERYS is Coming
Earl Sweatshirt // Farm
Kevin Abstract // Ghettobaby
-The Sideline Sounds Staff