Lianne La Havas – Blood

Lianne La Havas - Blood

Lianne La Havas – Blood

When Prince died on April 21st, he left behind an enormous legacy of influence. Traces of his flamboyant performance, meticulous album-crafting, and dynamic musicality can be found in artists from D’Angelo to Justin Timberlake. But as integral to Prince’s artistic persona was his ability to create mood — entire albums that felt sexy, wondrous, alive. In this aspect, he may have no greater follower than Lianne La Havas, the London-born singer-songwriter whose 2015 album Blood thrives in its own atmosphere.

Blood isn’t La Havas’ first foray into stardom. Apple named her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough, the iTunes Album of the Year. In fact, she performed alongside Prince on Saturday Night Live in 2014, and eventually collaborated with him on Art Official Age’s “Clouds.” However, her full debut felt like a collection of gorgeous alternative folk singles; an establishment of talent instead of the emergence of a true presence. With Blood, La Havas switches up her style, moving from alt-folk to neo-soul chill-funk. In the process, she transforms herself into an artist whose music swallows us. She draws us into her self-designed world so that every song, more than appreciated, is experienced.

Thematically, Blood is mostly concerned with love — a love that is universal, pervasive, shape-shifting, and mysterious. While the iterations of love shift from song to song, La Havas treats it with a sense of wonder throughout, tying the album together into one coherent whole. On “Unstoppable,” La Havas sings “Floating to the darkest reaches of space/To another galaxy/…it’s just gravitational/We are unstoppable.” Love, in this song, takes the form of something mysterious; unknowable, but constantly present and empowering. In “What You Don’t Do,” the album’s most lively song, love becomes more concrete, functioning as an ode to La Havas’ lover and the way in which he fulfils her. Again, she approaches love with a sense of reverence and uncertainty. “What You Don’t Do” is about the surprising nuances of love, the “things you don’t say” that mean so much more than melodramatic romantic declarations.

Not that love is the only theme of the album. La Havas turns a keen eye to herself at different points. In “Green and Gold,” she traces her growth from child to adult, reflecting on her Jamaican-Greek heritage. “Tokyo” finds her “alone in Tokyo,” meditating on her neon isolation. In both songs, La Havas retains her fascination with the world, transferring it towards herself as she defines her identity.

Due to the album’s production, it’s impossible not to adopt La Havas’ sense of wonder. Blood is beautifully genre-bending. Chimes co-exist with electric guitar and synth bass on songs like “Unstoppable” and “Tokyo.” “Grow” infuses a Gorillaz-esque drum machine with acoustic guitar and reggae. Muted brass sections appear throughout the album, transformed into accentuators of La Havas’ emotional highs and lows. And through it all, La Havas’ vocals soar — whether soft as a whisper or flying high above the horns, her lilting vibrato envelops the listener.

Admittedly, there’s a bit of monotony towards the end of the album that nearly breaks La Havas’ spell. The last several tracks on the album, heavily reliant on acoustic guitar, threaten to blend together. As if sensing this, La Havas inserts “Never Get Enough” a dark, electro-rock jam that jars with the softer sounds that surround it. It feels like she tries too hard to break the mold at this point, stepping outside her comfort zone to dispel any hint of boredom. The album works much better when the experimentation feels effortless. Luckily, for most of the album, it does. Through trumpets and chimes, joy and heartbreak, La Havas lets us experience her life. More than that, she creates a world that, for the span of ten tracks, we live in — a world fascinated with everything from love, to identity, to the human soul. Prince, the greatest creator of the last forty years, would be proud.