There comes a moment when you think that you have heard everything. Of course, such thought is usually nonsense (and pretentious), but there is a certain truth to it. I cannot be the only one to find myself in a situation where you’ve reached a dead end when discovering new music. It’s an itch that grows and grows to the point of feeling burned out, and it can be annoying at best, discouraging at worst. Thankfully, the glimmer of light is always present at the end of the tunnel you immerse yourself in; reach towards it and you’re once more in a field of conceptions and ideas waiting to be heard. I would like, then, to attribute this very experience with myself discovering Lianne La Havas’ self-titled record.
La Havas is a singer-songwriter from London who gained quick traction within the UK music scene with her lush and flamboyant sophomore record Blood. In what appears to be a striking contrast, she gathered some old and dear friends and began conceptualizing this self-titled record, marking the first time that La Havas holds complete creative control over a project of hers. This stripped-down, DIY approach is evident upon listening to the opening track “Bittersweet – Full Length”. The hi-hat and kicks coming from the drums bring forth an organic sound similar to live studio recordings, while the keys and bass brighten up the atmosphere ever so lightly. Then, like a sudden series of waves, La Havas’ charming yet potent vocals enter and envelop the track in sheer fervent energy.
Although this surge of energy is present throughout the entirety of the record, it is certainly not without its flavors. Lianne La Havas is a palette of timbres and textures coalescing effortlessly, further reinforcing the uplifting aura of self-discovery built upon it. From the soothing guitar plucks in the lovestruck ballad “Green Papaya” to the epic climax belting out from the haunting cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes”, this self-titled record rewards the listener with grooves that are both appealing and commanding. Still, there is a dark undertone roaming over each one of these tracks, indicating hindrances confronted before making this record possible. And there is a reason for that; apart from the record being self-produced, La Havas releases herself onto this collection of tracks, demonstrating both vulnerability and an act of empowerment through self-reflection and understanding.
After seven years of tumultuous circumstances with relationships and incessant touring, it is no surprise that there is a certain weight to Lianne La Havas. This is because, not only does this record serve as a proper introduction of what she has to offer creatively, but it is also a heart-on-sleeve, no holds barred account of the internal conflicts La Havas endured within those seven years, especially when it comes to love. This is reflected in the otherwise upbeat single “Can’t Fight”, where she proclaims, ‘It seems that I won’t be warned/And certainly I saw a sign‘. This line alone serves as a perfect summation of the record. Introspective, honest, and immediately captivating, the way La Havas delivers her vocal lines presents proximity to what she has to say.
This is also exemplified in the second and third tracks, “Read My Mind” and “Green Papaya”, where the naivety of falling in love is illustrated with such urgency that it demonstrates vividly the thrill of seeking such a feeling. Meanwhile, tracks such as “Paper Thin” and “Please Don’t Make Me Cry” handle the topic of expectations and fears with a level of maturity unseen in many contemporary artists. And it is within this contrast that Lianne La Havas excels in portraying the risks, rewards, and the nuances of love through the contemplative, yet unapologetic fusion of neo-soul, r&b, and indie folk.
When there are doubts and heartbreaks, acceptance is inevitable. What many do not realize is that coming to terms is not bound to a ‘eureka!’ moment; it is an arduous process that takes time and learning, and Lianne La Havas captures that so eloquently. Something as simple as wishing a past lover well can be quite transformative, as illustrated in “Seven Times”. Moreover, the underlining mood that looms over the latter half of the record does not only encourage you to accept the situation at stake but to also accept your imperfections and mistakes. Following these courses of action, self-realization can be achieved, as illustrated in the lively quasi-closer “Sour Flower”, a fulfilling and celebrative conclusion to the happenings unfolded amidst her relationship, further embellished by vibrant percussions and thunderous bass grooves.
What exactly made this record particularly stand out to me? It’s… quite hard to explain, really. Lianne La Havas is unfiltered, catchy, and it is extremely well-written. The way La Havas depicts the more complex corners of the human condition elevates the listening experience, transforming into something as personal as a conversation with a dear friend. The record is a refreshing take on the nuances of being in love. It gives depth and perspective to these types of discussions, instead of tackling them through a black and white perspective. With a flair for excellent songwriting and sincere storytelling, there is no doubt that Lianne La Havas would shine bright in the eyes of music fans like myself and, like a beacon, guide their way out of the murky tunnels they have immersed themselves in, musically and emotionally.