LIANNE LA HAVAS
Lianne La Havas (Warner)
There’s a seductive fluidity to Lianne La Havas’s third album, something graceful rather than forceful, with elongated rhythms that spool out, rewind slowly and begin the outward flow again. If this could be accompanied by anything I’d suggest Julia Baird’s book on awe, inner strength and nature, Phosphorescence.
Principally with co-writer Matt Hales, La Havas nails an indeterminate mood, a flexible one, that means the songs seemingly react like light sensors on your screens, shifting between day and night, interior and exterior, hopeful and weary, without changing structure.
You won’t be caught playing this at the wrong time because there won’t be a wrong time.
For example, I can confirm that it is as effective at 4am as 4pm: neither somnolent nor provoking, but giving you room to move and bend in Sour Flower or lean back with eyes closed in Green Papaya, to bubble with cocktail hour soul in Can’t Fight or ease into corner of the booth in Please Don’t Make Me Cry, but in each case allowing for the alternative reaction, the opposite physical response.
That’s why though the trajectory of a love affair the storyline, the way she moves in and around the instruments (her guitar work a regular highlight) with a voice that is never tethered, leaves room for trust as much disappointment, desire as much as the pangs of hurt. If the relationship ends badly, that doesn’t negate its best moments any more than any lessons learned. That’s why Bittersweet opens and closes the record, its cumulative nine minutes containing multitudes – musical and emotional.
Appropriately, for something self-titled, it’s an album which fulfils all the promise – or concentrates all the best - of her previous records, balancing the rhythmic with the tender, the neo-soul with the lightly spiritual jazz, in songs which consistently follow through in the writing rather than letting the atmosphere do the heavy work.
Paper Thin curves itself through a slow prism of ache and fading groove, Courage leans into a psych folk mood of gentleness, playfully tweaking the trippiness, Read My Mind melds R&B with splashes of sunshine pop. It’s clever, without needing to shout about its cleverness.
And yet oddly enough, its centrepiece is a cover, an unlikely cover too, which becomes the most forceful, focused – and yet, still adaptable - mood of the record.
In La Havas’ hands Radiohead’s Weird Fishes retains its sense of a body reshaping the surface but without the coiled tension of the original it eases into the water like a smooth push off the wall rather than a long dive in. In the first half of the song, La Havas’ slow strokes and the bassline’s gentle patterned kicks give the song an almost stately passage that culminates in a shimmering vocal-only section at the midpoint. There’s peace here, but also an opening for more.
Then bass re-emerges from the undertow into something more prow-like in the last three minutes, the drums propelling rather than just accompanying, and the backing voices joining her now-exultant one in a thrilling peak of gospel that in its sudden drop away to almost nothing but space leaves you holding on to … well, that’s the question: Memory? Air? Hope?
If that question remains hanging, there isn’t any such uncertainty about this record: it is a pleasure.