Loyle Carner – hugo

On 'hugo', Loyle Carner takes a closer look at pain, whether in the bigger picture or in his own life.

Label: EMI
Released: 21st October 2022

Even at his most incendiary, Loyle Carner is a beam of light. A tightly coiled spring introduces his third album, ‘hugo’; he embarks upon album opener ‘Hate’ with an unfiltered outpouring of distress, anger and frustration. The track sees him ablaze with emotion and fury, but the thing about a blazing fire is that it is illuminating. From the ashes of that anger comes a startling, hopeful light.

“Is the world moving fast for you as well?” Loyle asks on ‘Speed of Plight’. Caught in a relentless onslaught of bad news, the quest to examine who you truly are and a country that seems to illicit pain for its people above all else, Loyle reflects on a never-ending rush of things to do, to think, to come to terms with. These questions act as kindling to the flames bursting from him.

2019’s ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’ took an insular approach, deftly professing love and adoration for those in his life. Some moments saw him just beginning to scratch the surface of exploring his own identity. This time around, he widens his lens. Sometimes he reaches inwardly, reflecting upon his own experiences as a mixed-race man, other times glancing at society as a whole. ‘Georgetown’ is a crucial act of reconciliation – he calls upon Guyanese poet John Agard to bookmark the Madlib-produced track with snippets of his seminal poem ‘Half-caste’. It simmers with quiet power. ‘Homerton’ questions ideas of legacy and how inherently tied up with fatherhood that can be, something he beautifully returns to later with ‘Pollyfilla’. It’s moments like these where the fire continues to burn peacefully – subdued saxophones, piano-heavy beats, and warm production push the command of language that has always been the jewel in his arsenal to the front.

That fire cannot burn quietly forever, though. Soon, the flames rise higher and higher. ‘Blood On My Nikes’ crackles and sparks with indignation as it condemns the continued letting down of young Black men by a corrupt, uncaring government. ‘Plastic’ is similarly righteous, its distorted production giving way into a criticism of racial injustice and the vacuous, covetous side of society.

On ‘hugo’, Loyle Carner takes a closer look at pain, whether in the bigger picture or in his own life. He acknowledges that pain, tears it open, and shares it, sparking conversation and shedding light on the need for change. It’s a call to arms – a means of setting that anger and hurt alight and basking in the glow of letting it burn. ‘hugo’ sees Loyle Carner standing in the shadows of those flames and glimpsing a flicker of hope in their light.

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