On his third record, Hugo, Loyle Carner captures a story of maturity, starting with angst and ending in love and forgiveness.
Opening the album with the pounding and emotive ‘Hate’, crisp vocals cut through circling instrumentals, while heavy drum beats emerge over repeating piano hooks. The dominating sense of catharsis begins here and continues throughout the album’s tracklist, occasionally interspersed with more delicate introspections and softer melodies.
‘Nobody Knows (Ladas Road)’ holds a striking beauty in its production and instrumentality, with Carner exploring his own identity via powerful lyricism, setting himself as the focal point against a backdrop of chorused vocals. Treading the same line, the unflinching ‘Georgetown’ is snappy in its delivery, with the sampled inclusion of Guyanese poet John Agard’s ‘Half Caste’ allowing Carner, in his words, “the permission to finally write explicitly about being mixed”.
From the rhythmic and soulful sounds of ‘Speed of Plight’ and ‘Homerton’, to the tender, lo-fi, subtlety of ‘A Lasting Place’, Hugo retains some of the same musical foundations that originated on Carner’s first two records. However, Hugo is more reflective, more direct, than its earlier counterparts, delving further into themes previously only brushed upon, with Carner unafraid to speak his whole truth.
The punchiness of ‘Plastic’ is unforgiving, taking aim at the perceived materiality and fakery around us; “You’re a plastic prick / Look at all your plastic shit”, whilst ‘Blood On My Nikes’ is politically entrenched, featuring a stirring speech on knife crime from young political activist Athian Akec.
‘Pollyfilla’ feels like a deep sigh, a release of built up tension surrounding the concept of fatherhood, with Carner re-exploring his own experiences growing up, and his longing to “break the chains of the cycle” as he becomes a father himself. The initial anger and pain of the record disperses and culminates in the compelling ‘HGU’, as Carner repeats “I forgive you”, ending by telling his father “still I’m lucky that we talk”.
Loyle Carner has always been good at storytelling. Hugo is his best chapter yet.