In his remarkable sophomore album, London’s favourite soulful MC Loyle Carner shows the most vulnerability we’ve seen from him yet. With his familiar flow that sounds like you’re reading right out of his diary and the natural warmth he evokes that makes him feel like you’ve known him forever, Not Waving, But Drowning is a treasure you’ve found hidden deep in your closet and have dusted off to reveal a truly fond memory.
The album starts off with Dear Jean, a love letter to Carner’s mum where he reminisces about the past and says he’s going to move out of her place to live with his girlfriend, his “woman from the skies.” The emotional track reaffirms that Carner won’t be very far away and will always be within his mum’s reach, and that he is very grateful for her and her unconditional love. It’s a perfect note to start the album on and gets us ready for the journey that Carner is about to take us on.
Carner’s growing maturity makes a few appearances on the album. With accepting his haters on Angel, developing soulful insights on relationships and sex on You Don’t Know, reflecting on himself on Still and playing around with the idea of simply growing up on Desoleil (Brilliant Corners); he shows a deep understanding of what it means to navigate life. Since his debut ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ in 2017, Carner has significantly grown up and we can see his developments from boy to man. He uses his familiar jazzy hums to simply complement his words, not steal the light away from them.
Tracks Ottolenghi and Carluccio pay homage to two of Carner’s favourite chefs; British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi and the recently deceased Italian chef Antonio Carluccio. Carner loves cooking and has established his own cooking programme for kids with ADHD, something he also struggles from, so the two tracks further prove just how much cooking is a prevalent theme in his life. Ottolenghi also includes a feature from New Zealand-born artist Jordan Rakei, who gives it that deliciously addictive lo-fi beat.
But perhaps the most introspect comes later in the album with the tracks Loose Ends, featuring angelic hooks from Jorja Smith, and Looking Back which revolve around themes of isolation and feeling lost. On Loose Ends, Carner reflects on his adolescence and wishes that he had the support he has now back then. He wishes his fans had been there for his most heartbreaking moments and troubled times and been able to lift him up then like they do now. On Looking Back, Carner reveals that his feelings of alienation are caused mostly by racism. The track just may be the rawest, most honest one on the album.
Closing the album is Carner’s mum’s response to his opening letter. In Dear Ben she recites her own poem of love, reminiscing on him as a child and stating how important their relationship is to her. She references Carner finding his angel and beginning his life with her and delivers what is possibly the most heartfelt line of the album; “For I’ve gained a daughter, I’ve not lost a son.” It’s a track that tells us we’ve done it, we’ve reached the center of Carner’s heart. And there’s nothing left for us to see as he’s shown us all he physically can.