In the past, I’ve sneakily slipped London Grammar music videos into various posts on this site for little reason other than that I just really enjoy them, and I’ve written about their music once before, several years ago. Much of it is slow—a lot of silence accompanied by sparse, echoey thrums from Dan Rothman (guitar) and Dot Major (drums/keys), woven together by Hannah Reid’s almost operatic voice. (Starting off here by setting your expectations low; then you can be pleasantly surprised.)

Truth is a Beautiful Thing is the name of their second album, which was released on June 9. Needless to say it’s been a very London Grammar summer for me. Upon its release, some critics were too quick to draw worn-out comparisons to the xx (who, in my opinion, have largely lost their edge) and Florence Welch. While I hear the similarities between Hannah’s voice and Florence’s, there is no match in their form and intention. Florence is highly spirited, almost out-of-control, while Hannah remains incredibly restrained, even perfectionistic—control, as she sings on this latest album, is one of her vices. She hits every note.

So, ok, their music is often slow, even melancholic at times. But also, there’s this:

On June 9, Katy Perry also released her new album, Witness, but that week, in the UK, London Grammar topped the charts. Perhaps that’s not too surprising, given that the UK is their homeland and they aren’t exactly indie. But you wouldn’t really consider them pop, either, and remember, Katy is a global sensation with an immaculate, politically correct Twitter feed. (If you catch a whiff of smugness, you’re not wrong. Lauren O’Neil, over at Noisey, gave some thoughts on the upset: “Katy’s campaign for the album—which seems entirely based on her new woke persona—is actually mostly just annoying.”) But even if Katy skewered herself, that doesn’t explain London Grammar’s immense popularity, in spite of their vague, ethereal style. So why are they connecting with people?

Of course, there’s the general idea that anything melancholic will hit home at some point, simply because we all get sad sometimes. We do, as preachers say, have a God-shaped hole in our souls, an unquenchable longing. Genuinely existential, London Grammar looks unashamedly into that hole (cf. their new song, “Who Am I”).

But to me, it’s more than just the age-old cry of spiritual homesickness; it’s also the fact that these three really understand the unique fractures of the world we live in, and they express that understanding so beautifully. Who could better tap into the zeitgeist of this transient, internet-infused world than three thoughtful but uncertain millennials? (And millennials they are: note how Hannah starts “May the Best” with “I really hate the way you cold call me.” Just send a text, for God’s sake! I’ll get back to you when I can!) They express the emotions of the modern age in more genuine terms than any artist I can think of, in any medium—full of hesitation, doubt, disappointment—but also openness, contemplation, and an excruciating amount of talent. There’s no doubt that young people were raised with great expectations and landed hard on memes and anxiety meds; but London Grammar turns that seeming vacuity into pure art: unapologetically postmodern, but in a really refined way.

Though both of their albums are highly stylized, their main questions regard purpose and passion, not production or profit. Consider the distance between their first and second albums: four years. We fans had no idea that we should take their first album title so literally (If You Wait). But it was a hit from the start, and right away people were asking for more. They could have easily rolled out another album, and quickly (and they did release a lot of unofficial tracks, which are still available on YouTube for those that seek). Instead, they hit the brakes and asked why. Why produce? Why continue? They were upfront with their vulnerability and their fears, against the grain of an industry that demands a strong female lead and supportive, woke males. In 2014, Hannah spoke openly about her crippling stage fright, and they recently spoke to The Guardian about the internal discord of the last tour, about the exhaustion it left them with. During that time, in spite of their success, they performed short live sets, eventually cancelling the tail end of their tour (looks like the Biebs was taking notes). They went mostly dark for three years and reemerged this past spring, well-rested and more themselves than ever. They seem to understand, or at least to want to understand, that the houses we build are not purely material, that artists’ value is not always in production. I guess everyone needs a break sometimes. And I suppose it’s this vulnerability that people connect with. Sometimes.

Toward the end of an awesome 2014 interview with SpeakerTV, Hannah said something that was, to me, unforgettable: “At our gigs, obviously, people don’t dance. They think about life. Actually, that’s not true. Sometimes they do dance.” So while, yes, there’s certainly that murky, existential bent, which is not something to be sneered at, there’s also something brilliant, an indisputable light at the end of the tunnel, made all the brighter by the darkness surrounding it. Yes, sometimes we do dance. And this is freedom—not just to “lose yourself to dance” for the sake of dancing, but to first scrutinize the perplexities of life, to wrinkle your nose at its absurdities, and then, after all that, to hit the floor in your dancing shoes.

In this sense, Truth is a Beautiful Thing is everything I hoped it would be and more. It’s deep and layered, which is pleasing for those of us who prefer to be wallflowers, but occasionally, over the course of certain songs, it loosens up, and we do, too. We might even find ourselves singing along.

Anyone really familiar with If You Wait will notice that—though several critics called the new album “more of the same”—Truth is actually quite a bit bolder, both musically and lyrically. If You Wait was an exercise in restraint, on every level. Though philosophical to a fault, its songs made no truth claims (except for that one ever-powerful lyric, “Man seems so strong…I’ve never been so wrong”). On that album cover, Dan, Hannah, and Dot are all obscured by flashing lights and stylish hairdos—their faces are downcast, disengaged. Compare that to Truth, and the change is startling. Dan, Hannah, and Dot are facing outward, assertively, light shining on their faces. (I will admit that Dot is lurking in the shadows; he could be emerging or receding. You decide!) On the new album, their posture is confident, direct, and even though their songs remain hesitant to say exactly what “the truth” is, the album’s title is an admission that the truth, if it were real, would be a beautiful thing. It’s not quite objective, but it’s a step closer. A brave step, too, in this young adulthood, in this world of fear, where one misstep could plate you for a delicious roast on Twitter.

So track by track, then: The opener, “Rooting For You,” juxtaposes their signature restraint with Hannah’s voice, which shoots for the moon, and lands there safely. It’s a showcase, no doubt. It’s also a way for London Grammar to communicate, straightaway, that they don’t care if they’re putting you to sleep. They’re trying to, obviously, make a different point and are happy to test our patience in doing so.

For sleepyheads, then, Track 2 is a good place to start: “Big Picture” is louder than “Rooting For You,” and its last minute or so is frankly rocking; likewise, “Wild Eyed,” the third track, picks up after a minute; and “Oh Woman Oh Man,” has rightly proven popular.

And then there’s “Hell to the Liars.” This is the one that I really wanted to write about. Maybe the most startling song on the album, the only way I can make sense of it is to figure that it’s a toast to the end of self-righteousness:

Hell to the liars
Here’s to you and me
Hell to the best of us
Here’s to you and me

Hell to the righteous ones
Here’s to them

The grey-suited walkers
Prestigious men

They seem to be saying that anyone who thinks he or she is righteous—you, me, well-dressed businessfolk—are liars, and to hell with all that. (This theme, the un-deifying of humanity, can also be found on “May the Best”: “So take the God out of your stare for me, because I don’t see him standing there in front of me.”)

Before going further, I’d like to note that these songs seem designed to evoke an emotional response; when scrutinized intellectually, they tend to baffle. (Their postmodern blood.) That said, “Hell to the Liars” does something that other songs on this album do (particularly “Big Picture”): it runs decidedly dark lyrics against somehow triumphant music (the last two or three minutes find Dan and Dot jamming away to another dimension). The result is an almost spiritual cleanse (note the setting in the video below): we confront these dark words, wrestle with them for a bit, and see them through to the other side, where it’s brighter and where a sense of relief is imminent. On some level, it’s an unshackling experience: Yeah! Hell to the liars! To you and to me. Note, the opposite of lies is truth; so once again, they’re yearning for something real, something concrete.

Number 7, “Non-Believer,” is another of the fuller songs, this one pretty electronic (in my mind, it’s Truth’sMetal and Dust”), singing: “All that we are, all that we need…They’re different things.” In other words, we need more than whatever we are. In the scheme of the song, this claim defines the preacher; it is what separates the believers from the non-believers. Do you believe that you suffice? Or do you need something more than just yourself? I suppose they’re once again gesturing towards human vulnerability but, in the end, I just find the idea of Hannah being a preacher really compelling—“Maybe I’m just a preacher, non-believers crying, ‘Don’t believe her.’”

Then there’s “Bones of Ribbon,” which has been an absolute highlight for me: “They found me there in the sands, bones of ribbon in my hands.” Which I translate to something like, “I was found on the ground, unable to stand. My hands were weak, flimsy as ribbons.” It’s a song about the movement, the transformation, of a body found in a state of weakness, found on shifting sands, and then is changed from bones of ribbon to a mind of metal; then, off, running. (I have to admit, it reminds me a bit of Ezekiel’s dry bones passage.)

Throughout the album, “judgment” crops up in at least three different songs: on “Hell to the Liars” (“I’m no better than those I judge…with all my suffering”), “Who Am I” (“Who am I to judge you?”), and then again on the following track, “Leave the War with Me.” In all cases, it’s about letting go of judgment, getting out of the judgment game. In the latter song, the chorus repeats, “Better leave that war with me.” Which can be interpreted in two ways, as in: “Walk out with me, we’re going”; or, “leave it to me—I’ll take care of this.” I like the second interpretation better, but either way it’s about tapping out, letting go.

The bonus tracks: A lot of great ones here. First, “Trials”: not much to say here, except that it is incredibly tender and not to be missed. “Control” suggests that nothing is good enough, and perfectionism can’t be satiated: “I am not organic, no; I am hardwired this way.” In a world that wants everything to be organic, from bananas to relationships, it’s refreshing to hear someone suggest (especially if that someone is a favorite band) that we’re more machine-like than we’d prefer to think—to say, I’m a control freak, and I’m not changing, and I need someone to accept me, not change me. As if in evidence, the whole magnum opus is capped off with a cover of “Bittersweet Symphony.” The last words of the entire thing are thus “I can’t change, I can’t change, I can’t change…I am here in my mold… Well I never pray, but tonight I am on my knees again.”

Lastly, I’ll leave you with their cover of Beyonce’s “All Night,” which, you might recall, was Lemonade’s “redemption” song (and don’t miss the bridge: “True love brings salvation back into me / With every tear came redemption / and my torturer became my remedy):