New Song Friday: "Big Picture" - London Grammar
Let me set a scene for you.
I'm sitting in the living room of "Big Blue," my affectionately-named college house. It's a weekday afternoon, and central New York is frozen over, but the light coming in through the blinds is surprisingly strong—it's hitting the plastic drawers of our end table just right so they don't look filthy. On top of the end table is my beloved Bose alarm-clock/iPod-speaker combo. It’s the resting spot of the true love of my life: my 160GB iPod Classic.
It’s been a good day. I did better than expected on a chemistry exam, so as a treat, I've purchased a new album on Amazon. If you're lucky, Amazon will sometimes offer an mp3 rip alongside a physical album so you can listen to the album while you wait for your disc to arrive. Today, I’m lucky.
The album is queued up on my iPod, and I've got all day to listen. I don't know much about London Grammar, but I’m excited—I’ve only heard great things from friends. I hit play, and here comes “Hey Now.”
I don't know how long I’ve been sitting there listening, but by the time I look up, the sun's gone down, my roommates are back from classes, and one of them is peering into the living room.
“What are you listening to,” he asks. “It’s beautiful, but a little haunting.” I think to myself: You know what, this is beautiful.
Back to the present. I find that certain memories come back to me in vivid flashes. These flashes of memory are few and far between, so when one sticks, I think it's worth paying attention. The first time I heard Hannah Reid's voice, something stuck with me. Perhaps it was the setting and the culmination of my time in college, or maybe it's just the power of London Grammar’s sound—I can't be certain. Either way, I've been patiently waiting for new music from them. It was only recently that my patience was rewarded, in the form of a new single.
“Big Picture” feels fuller and brighter than the London Grammar songs I listened to on that cold winter day. Reid's vocals are as spine-tingling as ever, but the overall composition is significantly brighter than their previous work. That’s not to say that the lyrics depict a bright message, though. Love songs tend to trend one of two ways: overly happy with some rosy filters, or sad and forlorn.
This song pretty much nails the latter case. For reference, the verse following the chorus includes the line, "Don't say you ever loved me/Don't say you ever cared/My darkest friend." Sad, right?
The song starts with a soft piano backing and plucked guitar sounds. Reid's voice is, well...if you're unfamiliar with London Grammar and are listening to this song right now, her voice is very strong and immediately recognizable. I hope you found her entrance striking; she has one of my favorite female voices, period.
The piano and guitar sounds play throughout the song’s opening minute, then more instrumentation fills out the mix. This is where we start to see a difference from the songs on If You Wait. I couldn't help but hear just a bit of U2’s melodic guitar-built sound blocks (shoutout to the Edge). From about 3 minutes to the end of the song, we lose all of Reid's distinct vocals and fall into this huge melodic wave.
I think my association to U2 has something to do with the effected guitar that they're using and the really warm keyboard/bass background. The instrumental makeup ties in with the song’s gradual build and chord choice, and it brings me right back to summer days.
Now I’m sitting in my dad's Jeep. Sunbeams are cutting through the leaves on the tree; the air is warm and cool at the same time somehow. We're driving along the riverbank, heading home from my best friend's house in the next town over. On those car rides, we would listen to the great British rock stars of his youth—U2, Queen, Pink Floyd, whoever he was feeling like listening to that day.
When you're younger, you don't really choose the music you listen to. I think parents have a tremendous influence in how we start to think about music, and what we eventually determine as our musical palate. I don't think I ever gave my parent's enough credit for the profound musical influence they had on my life, so to my mom and dad: Thank you.
It's interesting that London Grammar has me talking about family. If you've been listening to “Big Picture” while reading this, I think you'll have a good sense of the intimacy that I associate with them. If they're new to you, I recommend you go back and listen to If You Wait. Maybe it was the setting—alone on my living room floor with nothing to do but listen and relax—or maybe it’s something about the music, but my bond with the band has been particularly memorable, and maybe it will leave a lasting impression on you too.
Until next time.