The multiracial Scottish trio Young Fathers was formed in 2008 when its members were still teenagers. They’ve grown up since then. They won the Scottish Album of the Year award twice (for Tape II in 2014 and Cocoa Sugar in 2018) and a Mercury Award for Dead in 2014. Heavy Heavy is Young Fathers’ first full-length release since Cocoa Sugar. The rhythm-laden new record sounds more relaxed than their old ones. The band’s sound has matured. As the combo’s name suggests, this is literally Dad music (a silly self-evident dad joke I couldn’t resist), but the beat is still at the center of the music.
Young Fathers always allowed room for improvisation in their music. If someone made a mistake, the other two members would play off it so that the wrong note or lyric would become part of the new whole. The combo’s mix of styles that borrows freely from hip-hop, pop, rhythm and blues, soul, rock, and global music, allows them the freedom to explore and experiment. This is especially true of their live shows, which enjoy a reputation for their intensity. I was lucky enough to experience one at the New York Times party at South by Southwest a few years ago.
Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and Graham Hastings have incorporated this power in the songs themselves on Heavy Heavy. Tracks such as “Shoot Me Down”,” Ululation”, and “Sink or Swim” bounce around and allow the individual artists to contribute where and when the aural space allows. They move forward by keeping the tempo fast, even if there is a stationary heartbeat in the middle. “You either sink or swim or do nothing,” goes the chorus to the aforementioned track, sung in frenzied voices that suggest the Young Fathers are doing all three things at once.
Other song lyrics share the same anthemic quality and are frequently spoken and shouted as much as sung. The concerns vary from the serious to the silly in the spirit of shared humanity—the need to express oneself. It’s an emotional response to the world we live in more than an intellectual one. “You scream” begins the throbbing “Tell Somebody” and self-responds with “But your soul / Your soul / Ain’t sound.” Whether the message is heard or true seems less important than making the declaration.
The ten songs each last about three minutes apiece, making them individually and collectively short in length. There is something light about the music because of its extemporaneous nature in contrast to Heavy Heavy’s title. There are no explicit references to the album’s name in the song lyrics, and it is unclear what Heavy Heavy means here. The music seems very much in the present moment. There are allusions to current ills, such as the depletion of natural resources, and the exploitation of workers — “the wicked and the hurt”. The narrators declare their awareness of what’s going on but take it a step further. They urge their audience to do the heavy lifting and “have fun”.