Young Fathers have always marched to the beat of their own manifold drums, so it came as a bit of a surprise when the trio teased their new era with ‘Lord’, a sanguine-sounding track, featuring choir chants, piano and a euphoric, anthemic chorus.
‘Cocoa Sugar’ the trio’s third effort, was created in an effort to abide by loose convention, the Edinburgh trio - comprised of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham 'G' Hastings - making a concerted attempt to create “linear-sounding” music. Could this record signal a reinvention to appease the Radio 1 demographic? Would they be setting their sights on the charts?
The answer is, no. Even with ‘Lord’, idiosyncrasies rule the roster, as if the bare-bones of a ballad have been churned out by a conveyor belt that added the requisite screeches, static and noise in an effort to maintain the trio’s penchant for the frenetic.
It’s unequivocally clear, as soon as the pulsating synthline of the somnolent ‘See How’ hits, that Young Fathers are unable to conform to a ‘normal’ prototype. Instead what unfolds is concentrated bursts of experimentation, tethered to no rules, thriving in the intersection between industrial hip-hop, shimmers of Krautrock and gospel. Tracks never run past the four-minute mark, which means Young Fathers have the license to stun and still induce the sort of rhythmic vitality which lets the body talk. Take single ‘In My View’ and album track ‘Border Girl’ possessing menacing but sensual rap-sung staccato, tethered to dirty, undulating drum patterns, treading the middle-ground between pop accessibility and the band's avant-garde compulsions.
Those compulsions pervade cuts like ‘Toy’ and ‘Wow’, the trio injecting soupçons that seek to alienate and isolate, brimming with hall-of-mirrors screams and echoes, swaying from moments of splendour to violence at breakneck speed. It’s here they weave the cold-effect, militant atmosphere of Kanye’s ‘Yeezus’, weaving unsettling, wailing sonics through narratives that depict the bleakness of our worldview. Additionally, the trio retain the lo-fi, funereal feel of their first two records, ‘Dead’ and ‘White Man Are Black Men Too’, going one step further, stripping the songs to stark confessionals, enhancing their religiosity, seeking transcendence and a spiritual awakening in a perilous world.
Still, ‘Cocoa Sugar’ benefits from not being strained by the sort of preachy politicking that mars records seeking to reflect the social consciousness. It captures our collective sense of angst and uncertainty, existing in a period of perennial turmoil, without explicitly detailing the causes. And that works for the best because they don’t have all the answers.
What elevates ‘Cocoa Sugar’ beyond the long line of protest records, is that so many of the battles projected in song are internal. Three young men clashing with their own personal, moral dilemmas, their faith, their own vices and that by virtue of slick song craft, create a universal experience. ‘Cocoa Sugar’ is a record that merits mass appeal recognition, a timely offering educing the moral panic fever reigning over our everyday existence.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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