Blind Taste Test: Lianne La Havas – Blood

Hi Fran,

After your strange idea that my music tastes are too all over the place to predict, I half considered to go extremely left field with my choice of an album in return. I was this close to choosing a country album for you to listen to, so you’ve missed out on that.

Instead I’ve chosen an artist and an album I can’t imagine anyone disliking. Lianne La Havas is just 2 albums into her career (a third is on its way this year) and her performance on these albums is so distinctive that it’s hard to find a comparison. Blood is her best work yet, full of soulful introspection and yet so powerful too. Vocally Lianne is un-matched on this album, on ‘Unstoppable’ and my absolute favourite ‘Midnight’, she changes dynamics effortlessly.

Her instrumentation is incredible too. Though they are hardly the same genre, I see the same use of guitar on Blood as I did on Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps. I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this record a lot Fran.

Sam.

Much obliged, Sam. Lianne La Havas is an almost totally new artist to me despite hearing the name all over the place. My only previous experience of her is from watching the video above. It’s a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes’, a song that is definitely in my top ten of all time. When I came across this video on Twitter my initial feeling was rage, as it often is when someone dares to cover one of the greats. But then I watched it. It’s mesmerising.

But despite really loving that cover, I seem to have not made even the slightest bit of effort to look back into Lianne’s career. I suppose I might’ve been scared of what I would find. You seem confident that I’ll like it though, Sam, and after your great reaction to Phoebe Bridgers I reckon I owe it to you to go in with an open mind.

Lianne has only been singing for several seconds when it becomes clear that Sam is right on at least one thing. That voice. Wow. And when she hits the chorus of ‘Unstoppable’ she soars – but with a real sense of control. And there’s a lot going on in the song as a whole, too – almost more than I can comment on on a first listen basis. As I move into the closing moments of the opener, listening to that almost constant distorted fuzz over the song, I am feeling that Lianne is going to be a far more experimental artist than I had ever imagined. But it’s the bass and the voice that drive this very promising opener forward.

‘Green & Gold’ – It’s interesting that I had only heard of Lianne through her Radiohead cover before, because before she opens her mouth on this one it sounds like it could have been lifted straight from In Rainbows. Man, her voice is smooth as silk here. But it’s that funky instrumentation that really propels this one – I can’t actually help thinking that she was listening to ‘Weird Fishes’ when she put it together. That little guitar lick. The prominent percussion. I liked the opening track, but after hearing ‘Green & Gold’ I think that Sam might have picked a winner here. I wasn’t expecting anything as good as this song from Lianne.

She hits those high octaves on ‘What You Don’t Do’. With all the focus on the voice and the musicianship, I haven’t had much time to concentrate on the lyrics so far. They’re a tiny bit generic here. And with a more minimal beat, and a slightly more standard R&B feel to the whole song, this is the first one that I’m not totally buying into on this first run through. Maybe it’ll make sense with further listens, but it’s a little bit Sister Act for me right now. Sister Act was cool as fuck, though, I suppose. Lauryn Fucking Hill.

‘Tokyo’ restores the faith straight away. Another fascinating, involving, guitar lick. And when the drums kick in, I’m floating. This is great. I’m trying to stop just enjoying listening to it to spend some time focusing on the lyrics, as they are often the most important part to me, but with such a fascinating mix of instrumentation and a voice like treacle she could be singing Donald Trump’s tweets and it would still sound inviting. I’m not sure what this is – it’s got elements of indie, funk, art-rock, R&B, and probably some other genres, too – but I am sure I like it.

It’s another more minimal track next. But ‘Wonderful’ is infinitely more impressive than ‘What You Don’t Do.’ This one is all about the voice. That control I mentioned at the outset is extremely evident here, as such a vocally led song could tempt other singers into something overblown and showboaty. But Lianne sounds like she is just letting the words glide off her tongue. I’m here all day for this. I didn’t expect to be bringing my boys into the mix so much today, but that piano hook is straight out of Radiohead too. I love it.

Sam has set me up for ‘Midnight’ in his introduction, so I’m expecting big things. Great piano line again. It’s another that I’ll be needing to come back to to fully make up my mind, though. But that’s fine. I’ve already decided that I will be coming back to Blood again and again. But there’s a bit of a big band feel to this one at times, which isn’t quite my thing. But that persistent piano keeps me interested and the breakdown at the end of the song is very strong.

I am immediately more into ‘Grow’. That husky vocal on top of a simple but beautiful guitar line – and then the way the whole thing just bursts into life after about 45 seconds. I’m loving the light and shade in this one. The ‘turn/turn/turn’ that heralds the ramping up from the slower parts of the song to the more out there, active parts. This is really strong stuff. It’s got a sort of tribal, communal feel and it’s making me really want to stand in a crowd at a gig and watch her perform it. My second favourite so far.

‘Ghost’ starts in a similar vein. But while Grow started off soft and slow and then burst into life, ‘Ghost’ is one of the first songs that seems to be a simple acoustic ballad throughout. Well, I say simple. But there is quite a lot going on here for what seems like one of the most straightforward songs on the album. And what is really interesting is that Lianne sounds like almost a totally different singer on this one. She has a freaking redonkulous range. My favourite part of this one, too, is the ghostly backing vocal she has created for herself, hovering over the song at all it’s strongest moments. Another cracker.

‘Never Get Enough’. Radiohead vibes again. Listen to this and then listen to ‘Present Tense’. The start of this, anyway. This one goes really wild about 45 seconds in. Crunchy bass, almost a dubstep feel. And then back to a simple, beautiful acoustic piece. This is also the first one that really stands out lyrically – where the words seem to matter as much as the music and the voice. Will be another that I’ll need to think on, though. I really enjoy the quieter moments of the song but I’m not sure the bursts of noise work as well. There’s something black metally about them almost. A mixed bag.

And then, in what seems like just minutes, were on to the album closer. ‘Good Goodbye’ seems to be largely focused on the biggest weapon that Lianne has in her armoury – that gorgeous, changeable voice. It’s captivating. This definitely seems like the saddest song here. And while I feel the emotion, I am little too blissed out on the vocal performance and the string section. Stunning.

Well, Sam, after the success of my Phoebe Bridgers experiment you have 100% returned the favour. I feel like we should just fire albums at each other for the rest of time. Although, inevitably I suppose, you would end up having to send me a Take That LP at some point and all hell would break loose. But for now it’s Lianne Li Havas, and I’m all for it. This was a far more interesting record than I’d imagined, a far more inventive record than I ever would have credited her with from my admittedly limited knowledge, and the first Blind Taste Test I have done that has gone straight back on for a second listen when I finished writing it up. Well played.

Words by Fran Slater

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