Loyle Carner – hugo (★★★★★): A lesson in vulnerability

In the years that have passed since Loyle Carner’s last album, Not Waving,but Drowning , fired at us, a lot has changed in the life of the Britishrapper. Not only did his world, just like ours, come to a complete standstillfor a while due to the well-known corona pandemic, but he also became a fatherfor the first time. The lockdowns gave him plenty of time to get used to thatnew role, but also to reflect on that same fatherhood and his own identity asa half-white, half-black man in a society that is unfortunately stillcharacterized by racism and injustice. . Carner has never hidden in his musichow difficult he sometimes finds it to navigate the world from his position.His bicultural identity and the lack of a father figure formed both on hisdebut Yesterday ‘s Gone _from 2017 as on that _Not Waving, but Drowning ofprominent themes two years later. In recent years, however, the Londoner hasgained new perspectives, precisely because he suddenly had so much time tothink about it and because he suddenly became the father of a son, and thusalso gathered enough inspiration for a third album.

When that big third hugo was announced, we wondered if Loyle Carner wouldsafely build on the groundwork he had laid with his two previous albums, or ifthe Brit would try something new for once. on both Yesterday ‘s Gone _as on_Not Waving, but Drowning he showed himself from a soft side with laidback,jazzy beats, a slow flow and a touch of melancholy. This was very successfulon its debut, but we already got a bit bored of its brave successor. So wehoped that hugo would give us a reason not to write it off completely.Luckily for us (and for him) we don’t have to, because with hugo LoyleCarner brings not only the best album in his repertoire to date, but also oneof the best records of the year.

What hugo puts it in a different category from its predecessors from thevery first moment, is that the longplayer is characterized by Carner’s fury.Although we sometimes heard this anger hinted on his previous albums, it playson hugo an extremely prominent role. Once the rock-solid album opener “Hate”kicks off, it becomes clear that his anger cannot be ignored. Against asoundtrack of thumping drums and a solid bass, Carner not only expresses hisfears, but especially his anger at the hateful world in which he is constantlyconfronted with his skin color. It may be uncomfortable for white peopleunaffected by racism to listen to Carner’s fierce verbiage, but the fact isthat what he describes in “Hate” is the painful reality for a very, very largenumber of people.

That anger is once again central to the practically perfect “Nobody Knows(Ladas Road)”. It’s not the first song ever in which the rapper explores hismixed heritage and missing a father, but he’s never done it so incrediblydirect as on this one. “I told the black man, he didn’t understand / I reachedthe white man, he wouldn’t take my hand,” Carner said in frustration. “NobodyKnows (Ladas Road)” is an incredibly effective explanation of the complexfeeling of being accepted nowhere by your bicultural identity, and willprobably bring a lot of recognition for everyone who also has such abackground. Carner’s anger also oozes from the intriguing “Blood On My Nikes”,in which he makes short shrift of the political climate in England and theincrease in fatal stabbings among young people. When we hear the youngactivist Athian Akec give a witty speech about those stabbings at the end ofthe song, we get a big lump in our throat.

While we cannot deny that anger plays a very important role in hugo and thatit is a very legitimate emotion, this third Loyle Carner album also shows onceagain that anger is actually always rooted in deep sadness. We hear this, forexample, on the captivating “Speed ​​Of Plight” (which by the way is on theFIFA23 soundtrack) and the mature piano song “Homerton”, on which he isaccompanied by Olivia Dean and JNR WILLIAMS. His grief is most evident on thetearjerkers “A Lasting Place” and “Polyfilla”. Both songs explore the traumaof growing up without a father with a vulnerability we’ve never heard of withLoyle Carner.

Both “A Lasting Place” and “Polyfilla” are accompanied by a jazzy, chill pianothat reminds us of Not Waving, but Drowning. Yet both songs are a lot moremature and introspective than what we heard on that record. The first exploreshis relationship with his mother and how grateful he is for her lovingupbringing. Tears well up in our eyes when the Brit raps: ‘The love is great /To raise the man that you hate / Growing in the man that you make.’ Incontrast, on “Polyfilla,” Carner focuses on the theme of intergenerationaltrauma, where traumas are passed on from one generation to the next. He longsto break the vicious circle with his son, but acknowledges his fear that hewill fail in parenting like his own father. It is a subject that some find itdifficult to identify with. Yet Carner conveys the complex feelings in such afrank and straightforward way that it’s quite easy to understand where hisgrief comes from. The diptych is effortlessly a highlight on the album, whichis a great achievement on a record that consists only of highlights.

Of hugo Loyle Carner not only makes it clear that he’s outdone himself, butthat he’s playing at a completely different level than many of the others whoreleased a record this year. The album __ is a beautifully cohesive work thatexplores the complexities of fatherhood, the influence of childhood trauma anda bicultural identity in an incredibly honest way. Carner delves into theconflicting feelings in his psyche in a way that takes a lot of maturity anddaring, and works his way effortlessly into our hearts and year-end lists.It’s a real lesson in vulnerability, this one hugo and undoubtedly one ofthe most beautiful we heard this year.

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