By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
What hasn't gone away is Skinner's ability to put you right there, in the middle of the action, and that goes for his production as well as his lyrics. Which brings us to difference number two: If you thought Pirate a tad deficient musically, you will not be amused with Grand's bareness. Your non-amusement will be your loss, and also your misunderstanding, because Skinner's songs use music as atmosphere, suggestion, backdropa scrim to paint a world on. "Could Well Be In," is little more than plaintive Casio-on-"piano" chords, ticking drum machine, and invisible string sample, but its silences heighten the delicacy of the situation. He uses few props and makes the most out of all of them.
Which brings us to difference number three: Skinner's got less traditional-sense "flow" this time around, but Grand sounds, feels more hip-hop somehow. Note that background-scrim business: Skinner's loops rarely vary, but they suggest the chip shops and darkened apartments of his London terrain just as cannily as Premier or RZA or Dre tracks suggest theirs. Not that Skinner is competing with his American idols or even the U.K. grime contingent at this point; the closest this album comes to that is the tempered bass swarms of "Get Out of My House," a duet with Simoneher character name, at leastthat's a domesticated (har har) version of Dizzee Rascal's gender spat "I Luv U." More squirrelly, thoughSkinner's dips and stammers in the background are rhythmically savvy but not necessarily "funky," at least in the traditional African American sense. Gone are "Sharp Darts"-style attempts at full-on rap rollers, however brief; everything here centers around his cadences, alternately pliable and stick-straight. Nothing seems forced, even when Skinner enunciates "That blue Top Shop top you've got on eeez nice" in "Fit" like he's pogoing harder than the song's jumping-in-place guitar, like a rivet gun with mild Tourette's.
He's also turning into quite the loverman. Grand's best moments involve a relationship the narrator treasures foryou guessed correctlyits routine: "Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way" makes sharing a spliff on his girlfriend's couch sound revelatory, the song's cheap piano vamp and r&b scats intensifying the smallness and goodness of Skinner's small, good thing. "Dry Your Eyes" is less title than instruction, especially when he croaks an utterly bereft "I've got nuffing." But he knows that we can always use more good stories, even if we can guess how they end.