At just 22 years old English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lianne La Havas impressed the unwavering and inimitable Prince with her debut album Is Your Love Big Enough. The 2012 record presented an already distinctive sound and artist, whose marriage of folk, soul and jazz was strengthened by her undeniable instrumental and vocal talents. With comparisons to legendary artists like Erykah Badu, and collaborations with artists including Aqualung and Alt J, La Havas has been on an unmistakeable journey forward. Continuing to advance perpetually onward and upward is her sophomore album Blood. Striking a balance point between poppy accessibility and colourful musical intelligence, Blood is sensitive and confident, self-aware and surprising, abandoning the endearing romantic confusion of her debut for graceful introspection.
Blood is an exercise in personal affirmation straight out of the gate with opener and first single Unstoppable. The slick production is awash with endless layers of musical nuances without being weighed down. Haunting chromatic string ascents create a stirring tension that is broken by La Havas’ voice contemplating a cosmic love, which although has left, it has left her with a powerful determination. The dreamy love songs and crises of the heart that deeply informed her debut are forgotten in this introspective exploration of personal identity. On Green & Gold La Havas recalls her childhood curiosity, and the coming of age that was significantly prompted by her racial identity. Using motifs from both her Jamaican and Greek backgrounds, (“I’m looking at life unfold, dreaming of the green and gold / Just like the ancient stone, every sunrise I know / Those eyes you gave to me, they let me see where I come from”) her voice glides atop the nimble accompaniment of syncopated guitar, shuffling percussion and horns intertwined with vocal harmonies. At times the songstress allows her lower range reign supreme – a sensual and developed part of her register that too often gets overlooked by today’s female singers.
In What You Don’t Do La Havas offers a refreshing and engaging alternative to the sweet nothings that saturate pop balladry. Its inescapable groove and simple but potent beat could move even the two-left-footed amongst us. Wonderful makes use of the uncluttered arrangement characteristic of La Havas’ debut. The enchanting song ebbs and flows with seduction and nostalgia, whose quivering strings, pulsating clicks, and guitar that turns up when it wants and leaves just as easily, perfectly suits the track’s extended, charged metaphor: “You can trip, flick a switch negative / Break the circuit between us / But electricity lingers / In our fingers.” Its hushed tones are a far cry from the frenzied oscillation of Never Get Enough, whose shift between delicate bossa nova and agitated distortion gradually grows from awkward to arresting. Good Goodbye then delivers a poignant finale. While strings provide the folky ode with a sense of imposing drama, La Havas remains beautifully understated, her delicate voice cutting deeper than ostentatious weeping.
In Blood Lianne La Havas exhibits a maturity and confidence that one could only hope for a second album. Her affecting, versatile voice is complemented by a tangible musicality and intuition that stays safe where it should, and takes chances where it can. No doubt, Blood will earn La Havas even more fans, superstar or otherwise.