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Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar (Album Review)

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Young Fathers are a hard act to review because they're so wilfully and unapologetically avant-garde. It's virtually impossible to neatly categorise the Edinburgh trio or wax poetic on their lineage. To make matters worse, their albums are too frenetic and overwhelming to play on repeat without taking a lengthy recovery nap.

To their credit, the group would almost certainly take that as a massive compliment. Their sound is best characterised, as member Alloysious Massaquoi puts it, as a “hotchpotch, ragbag, pastiche”. Soulful call-and-response style vocals interact with esoteric samples, unusual percussion sounds and pummelling basslines – and that's just the first couple of tracks on 'Cocoa Sugar'.

The record is the group's third album following their chaotic Mercury Prize-winning debut 'Dead' and its lo-fi follow-up 'White Men Are Black Men Too'.

If there's one criticism you could level at those solid efforts it's that they were so loaded with ideas, they could feel overly jarring. Discernible touchstones included everything from neo-soul to abstract hip hop to gospel to glitchy house.

All these elements are present on 'Cocoa Sugar', but there's a greater sense of purpose and unity to the project all round. Young Fathers have always had a penchant for surprising or even tricking listeners – they might introduce an upbeat melody and then decimate it with devastating sub-bass before the track is through. Here, they're more comfortable letting tracks breathe, introducing new components subtly and more deliberately (if not quite tastefully).

Lord, the album's introductory single, exemplifies this by leading with a simple piano progression. It builds and repeats throughout the whole track, but contrasts with torturous guitar feedback, scraping strings and dissonant vocals. The result is strangely compelling, with quasi-religious lyrics delivered over a sonic template where light and shade wrestle for attention.

This duality is apparent throughout: Turn's arpeggiated synths and wild-eyed vocals should sound sinister, but the effect is oddly uplifting; In My View's buzzing bass serve as a shuddering anchor to contrast with the sensual harmonies of Massaquoi and bandmates Kayus Bankole and 'G' Hastings. Prayer-like murmurings collide with minimalist beatbox percussion on Border Girl.

As with their previous records, these experimentations are laced with social commentary. In a broad sense, the disorienting world Young Fathers seek to convey is simply a reflection of the maddeningly contradictory capitalist society we inhabit. The standout line on the track Wow is “What a time to be alive – I'm going to put myself first”. It's a sentiment they've expressed time and again, but the drawn-out gallop towards its conclusion shows they've learned that organised chaos is more artistically powerful.

Stylistically, this isn't a huge departure from their previous albums, and is unlikely to sway those who find Young Fathers overbearing. Their use of synths is more minimal and the hip hop element has been toned down further in favour of more poppy vocals, but the most striking shift is in structure rather than production. It's only 35 minutes long, but 'Cocoa Sugar' has trimmed the fat yet added more depth. It's their best offering yet.

Young Fathers Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue March 20 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute2
Wed March 21 2018 - LONDON Roundhouse
Thu March 22 2018 - BRISTOL Trinity Centre
Fri March 23 2018 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Sat March 24 2018 - GLASGOW Barrowland Ballroom
Wed March 28 2018 - DUBLIN Academy
Sat June 02 2018 - EDINBURGH Leith Theatre

Click here to compare & buy Young Fathers Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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