Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar Review

Edinburgh’s Young Fathers are made up of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham “G” Hastings and have already experienced a great deal of acclaim for their dynamic Hip Hop and Pop sound. This has included a Mercury Prize win in 2014 when they were down as the little fancied underdogs and two acclaimed albums thereafter. Those first two albums were released within a year and very much hastened by their Mercury Prize success. In that sense, their second effort White Men Are Black Men Too felt like their debut and it allowed them to develop their sound with less pressure and attention than say… a second album would. With Cocoa Sugar they’ve had three years to hone their sound and see where they can take it.

With ‘In My View’ they demonstrate this to be a more expansive arrangement coupled with a crisp production. Scattered percussion paces with drive at the heart of the track with vocal instrumentation accentuating each beat. Such a prominent rhythm accommodates the three separate vocal parts from each member for a fine balance powerful lead vocals and the darker tones of spoken words. Yet again, they bend and marry genres and styles to their will naturally for what is an immaculate piece of music you won’t hear the like of this year. ‘Tremolo’ features a whirring, static energy which buzzes for the duration of the track. From this comes the delicate percussion, vocal rounds and resonant organs. It is a subtle track for which the vocal rounds lend itself well to a song about being lost in life’s various darknesses. ‘Wire’ is a rapid track with a rapid beat highlighted with chiming electronica mirroring it. With pitch shifted and distorted vocals, it is akin to some of the final tracks released by the Knife back in 2013 albeit a more condensed version.

‘Toy’ opens with a frantic beat and opaque, whirring foundation which runs through the song. It is a biggest barometer of the groups improvement with the arrangement largely similar to their previous work, but here the instrumentation appears sharper, focused and purposeful. This makes the subject matter about the aftermath of a broken relationship sound all the more pithy and pointed. With tracks like ‘Border Girl’ shift and move with ease via a deep, reverberating bass line and here vocal overtures are layered over these for a track with a lot of Pop sensibility applied in an unconventional way. That is the key word for this album; unconventional. They apply known melodies, hooks and sounds in their own style and bend them to their will. It is undoubtedly their most complete album and balances their songwriting talents with their production skill. They’ve set themselves to stand out from the crowd and leave it up to the listener to decide.

Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar = 8.5/10

Owen Riddle

Young Fathers – White Men are Black Men Too Review

The Edinburgh based Hip-hop trio and current winners of the Mercury Prize, were very much shock nominees and winners of the award due to their relative obscurity next to the likes of Damon Albarn, FKA Twigs or Bombay Bicycle Club. It would be hard to deny them the prize however due to the interesting combinations on show for their debut album DEAD. That album, however, was made with little pressure or expectation. Now with their second studio LP, they will be a greater pressure to add to the success of their debut and justify their title of Mercury Prize winners. The initial promise with White Men are Black Men Too is one of a greater depth of variety and influence then that of their debut, but variety and innovative combinations don’t always work. Did the risk pay off?

‘Shame’ has an easily identifiable rhythmic purpose and directions with the collation of percussive types and samples along with the vocal ‘instrumentals’ with the backing vocals taking on the melody and are the light to the shade of bass-level, deep droning of the synths. This makes the track energetic and lively, but is produced in a slightly muffled and muted fashion that isn’t obtrusive or blocky. The earthy and slightly out of kilter vocals combine with the instrumentals to enforce the wiry and gently uplifting melody. By the close of the track, the electronica becomes more expansive and open to pick up the sound further in line with the growing vocal combinations. It’s a smart track that through less obvious means has generated a track with intelligent and creative melodies and rhythms. ‘Rain or Shine’ opens with warped and worn staccato-like organs which generates an urgency and alertness to the track. Again, this is set up behind a slightly muffled and distorted filter and this allows for the sung and spoken vocals so have freedom of movement to deliver the lyrics. The sung vocals also sit behind this distorted percussion and they act as a part of the instrumental set up in what is a minimalist track practically. The introduction of Joshua Hayward-like shredding guitars sees the song spiral and spin off to a an ever higher level of urgency as the song’s close.

’27’ has a more sweeping warped organ-like synth to open with which acts as the piece of fluidity amongst the oncoming piano chords, reverberating bass electronica and rotating percussion. These secondary elements fade in and out to often leave the organs sounds in atmospheric isolation, before the rest of the instrumentals swing back to progress the song more rapidly. ‘Nest’ is another piece of subtle, yet uplifting pop with the isolated and bold vocal production sat proudly ahead of the vocal instrumentals and the buoyant pianos and handclap percussion. The vocal combinations add an aspect of pure melody and a smooth progression to the track which is naturally fluid without the aid of too much production and with this track it was a case of what they left out which made it work. ‘Get Started’ mixes soulful vocals with experimental electronica that sits somewhere between Julian Casablancas and The Voidz and the Knife. Through this, a delicate and meandering tune extracted out of the track. The song goes on to develop a great burst of light against the early shade with the wistful backing vocals and the more expansive electronica. On the whole this album succeeded brilliantly in combining an even greater number of influences in their music and making them shine with intricate hooks and rhythmic qualities. These often un-cluttlered tracks ensure that they can advance their instrumentals methods and production solutions. It’s a fine album, deserving of many more awards for Young Fathers. A sign that British music is in good hands for the future.

Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too = 9.5/10