It’s hard to see how things could be going better for LIPA’s own Dan Croll at the moment. With a coveted GIT nomination, Radio 1 airplay and support slots with the likes of Bastille and London Grammar, there’s a sense that Sweet Disarray, his debut album, might just be the catalyst for super-stardom. Having said that, history is littered with almost-rans, and the significant hype surrounding the release has also served to put tremendous pressure on the young singer-songwriter; should his debut fall flat, there’s little room for recovery.
The album opens with the single that started it all. ‘From Nowhere’, Croll’s debut, is now two years old, and acquainted enough to any fans of the singer. Placing it first was a clever move. The familiarly resonant bursts of bright guitar coupled with confident grooves do much to dissuade any fears that expectations might not be met by reminding his audience just what he’s capable of.
Further singles ‘Compliment Your Soul’ and the marginally weaker ‘In/Out’ are also there to add weight to the albums top half, but there’s no getting away from the presence of unheard material. Second track ‘Thinkin Aboutchu’ is immediately promising, balancing an array of textures atop driving rhythms and melodic keys, while ‘Always Like This’ is a dextrous number that pushes Croll’s consistent Afrobeat influence to the foreground with significant effect. These two tracks see the singer at his most original and, by association, his best; it’s these moments when he strikes a sweet spot between innovation and influence that are what really impresses about the album.
The unfortunate thing is that for the most part these moments of real individuality don’t quite permeate throughout. For the remainder of the album the 23-year-old’s identity just doesn’t make itself heard in a striking enough manner. Each song on the album is undoubtedly of remarkable quality given that it’s his debut, yet there’s not much to indicate its Croll’s own. ‘Home’ for example could take pride of place on a Bombay Bicycle Club record – it sounds like a great song, but only a great Bombay Bicycle Club song. There’s the odd burst of the electronic textures that embellish the stronger work, but it’s never quite enough to affirm his identity.
Not that this takes away from the album as a whole. The considerable virtues of Croll’s stronger moments, when coupled with the sense that even his less original tracks are written with a significant gift put the album leagues ahead of much of his contemporaries. With the hype machine satisfied, Sweet Disarray is an admirable foundation for one of Liverpool’s most promising acts in years to flourish atop.