There are no hands in the air moments on the second album from British MC Loyle Carner.
Yet Not Waving, but Drowning is all the richer for the absence of razzmatazz.
This is hip-hop as slow-burn confessional — hostile to braggadocio and with a seam of soul-baring honesty that creeps up on the listener and sinks its teeth in.
Carner, 24 and from Croydon in south London, received a Mercury-nomination for his 2017 debutYesterday’s Gone.
Here he once again looks deep within, with songs that track his romantic life (the deliciously breezy Angel, which also refers to his ADHD) and ponder his mixed-race heritage and his struggles fitting into either his mother or father’s worlds (in ‘Looking Back’ he negotiates his singular relationship with the n-word).
What’s fantastic about Not Waving, but Drowning is the way Carter juxtaposes lyrics steeped in self-doubt with dreamy beats and bed-room level recording techniques.
In our present era of maximalist hip hop — where everyone is vying to bring you the biggest hook, the flashiest production — Carner’s less-is-more stance is entirely intoxicating.
It also marks him as a maverick — following his instincts, uninhibited by the extent to which they push against the grain of contemporary urban music.
The effect is heightened by an assured, velvety flow. Carner delivers his lines as if unburdening himself to a trusted friend. He raps softly, almost yet never quite, sinking into a meandering mumble.
There is some heavy lifting — but that falls to guest artists Sampha and Jorja Smith (both fellow Mercury nominees — the former having of course snatched the gong from under the nose of Carner).
Back on the road this weekend! Supported by my guys @pitch_92 (Dublin/Edinburgh/Leeds/Manchester) and @Ash_henrymusic (Brighton/Bristol/London). Catch you tomorrow Dublin 🇨🇮 pic.twitter.com/eAkEys66m6— Loyle (@LoyleCarner) April 26, 2019
Hip hop fans expecting block-busting grooves and instantly catchy choruses may, it is true, feel underwhelmed. Here is a record of quiet triumphs that reveals its charms by increments.
But if you’ve got the time, Carner has the rhymes and this is album worth getting lost in.
Loyle Carner plays the Grand Social, Dublin, tonight.