PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Young Fathers Do It Their Way on Best Album Yet, 'Cocoa Sugar'

Photo courtesy of Ninja Tune

Cocoa Sugar is an album that retains an enigmatic quality. Provocative when it needs to be, it steers well clear of addressing current world issues explicitly. This album will resonate for years to come.

Cocoa Sugar
Young Fathers

Ninja Tune

9 March 2018

Scottish based collective, Young Fathers, have always pushed at the expectations of what a band should be. Over their 10 years as a band, the trio of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham 'G' Hastings have reveled in consistently taking the road less traveled. Whether it be in defying commercial pressures to follow up their 2014 debut album Dead with 2015's willfully abrasive White Men Are Black Men Too, or providing a score for Topher Campbell's art film Fetish, they are a band who appreciate the value of music as artistic expression rather than throwaway commodity.

White Men Are Black Men Too solidified the band's standing as an excitingly unpredictable band. At times the album felt like a group trying to glue a broken bottle back together, so splintered and disparate were its various elements. New album, Cocoa Sugar, is, without doubt, the bands most accessible to date but don't think for a moment that they have compromised their sound in pursuit of mainstream success. For every hook or vocal melody, there is a contrasting, experimental noise, as if the band are at pains to scuff up the sound if things become too comfortable. It's this juxtaposition that makes the album such a thrilling listen.

Opener "See How" sets the blueprint for the album as a whole. More stripped back than previous work it rides a deep, shadowy grime beat backed by the majestic power of a gospel choir. Music writer G. Hastings adds strangulated saxophone notes that he warps and bends to add a little dissonance. Rather than overly downbeat, the song comes across as more world-weary but with an overriding sense that 'what will be, will be'. "Fee Fi" with its chanted, repetitive hook line, shuffling beat and slightly off-kilter, old-time piano sound takes its maverick cut-up approach from J Dilla. Willfully lo-fi, it contains one of the album's darkest and most sinisterly delivered lines with "Give me slice / I like your flesh / I know what's best."

"In My View" can rightfully stand up as one of the most straightforward but catchiest songs the trio have ever written. Carried by a thick synth bassline and minimal beats it shows off what the band is capable of when they push themselves to write more linearly. The soulful "Turn" simultaneously mixes more radiant dance beats with forthright, reflective lyrics - In a way coming across like a Jamie XX mix of a Massive Attack track. In comparison the relatively stark, "Lord" relies on bright, fluttering piano notes and a gospel choir, giving it an expected spiritual quality. However, this is a Young Fathers song. Never ones to take the expected path they deliberately add sonic jolts with long droning notes like short, sharp electric shocks. The effect is dazzling.

Equally thrilling is the way in which each of the three members contributes on the album. Whether it be a rap, a vocal hook or melody, each song manages to be representative of the three artists in the group. That can easily be seen on "Tremolo" where the interplay between the three-piece works to excellent effect. The trio takes fairly rudimentary clashes of percussion and funereal organ and elevates it to become magnificently life-affirming - something far more than the sum of its parts. The spiritual element and the importance of faith are present throughout, from the gospel choirs to the lyrics on songs such as on "Holy Ghost" where Kayus Bankole passionately declares "I got the holy ghost fire in me."

Elsewhere, the rip and ripple of "Wow" marries a twitchy, rumbling beat with spaced out almost deadpan vocal delivery - like TV on The Radio experimenting with grime. "Wire" squeezes together a pulsating dub grove and then folds in some jungle, afro-beat and even some trance to create a rumbling bed for the mesmerizing refrain of "Oh yeah fucker I can dance / Oh yeah fucker I can love."

The skittering "Toy" provides another nimble vocal work out for Kankole and Alloysious Massaquoi with killer lines like "I'm chasing shadows in the gallows / Collecting what was stolen from me" and the chorus of, "You're just a broken a little toy / You silly boy." Again, it's devastatingly effective. Closer "Picking You" provides a stunningly heartfelt conclusion to the album. Accompanied by marching drums and full, organ chords the three come together perfectly for a poignant coda of "You'll never find your way to heaven / But you can follow me."

At times consciously oblique, Cocoa Sugar is an album that retains an enigmatic quality. Provocative when it needs to be, it steers well clear of addressing current world issues explicitly. It doesn't try to answer the difficult questions; rather it invites the listener to delve into their minds to find out the answers for themselves. As a result, this is an album that will resonate in five, ten, 15 years times - and they did it on their terms.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.