Young Fathers accomplish more in a three-minute pop song than a world-class chef with an hour in a fully stocked kitchen. Though their music can very loosely be called “art pop,” there are countless stylistic threads—hip-hop, indie rock, gospel and Afrobeat, to name a few—coursing through their music. Their 2018 album Cocoa Sugar congealed those traces into a danceable, smooth and occasionally off-kilter pop concoction. Heavy Heavy, then, sees them advance their style by recontextualizing mistakes.
The tight parameter Young Fathers abide by (only one song passes the three-and-a-half minute mark) is the only rule they follow on Heavy Heavy. In a recent interview with The Guardian, they revealed their ideology of accidents—one that embraces mistakes as necessary to the creative process while admonishing perfection. Their readiness to make anything work, to will it into the shape of a song, asserts Heavy Heavy as simultaneously their noisiest, sleekest and loudest album. In a sense, it has to be. If Young Fathers didn’t commit to these mistakes then they’d remain on the cutting room floor. However, more often than not, they turn nothing into something so smoothly that it all sounds accordingly to plan.
Additionally, Heavy Heavy readily draws from member Kayus Bankole’s excursions to Ethiopia and Ghana during the pandemic, employing ever-shifting chanting vocals from multiple singers and a percussive focus. It’s thus the trio’s most accessible work by virtue of its focus on a reinvigorated enthusiasm for their craft. Take, for instance, “Ululation,” an expression of finding joy by welcoming errors, which came about after Young Fathers invited one of their friends to improvise over their celebratory beat. Or the preceding “Shoot Me Down,” which warps repetitive vocal samples into an earworm production, insinuating that the original lines weren’t fit for a full feature. Rather than discard these loose ends, Young Fathers refashion them into the record’s most seductive beat.
Certain tracks on Heavy Heavy are among the most forceful in Young Fathers’ career. Distortion and fuzz are some of the most versatile tools in their arsenal, expanding on the seeds “Lord” planted on Cocoa Sugar. Young Fathers dash them into “I Saw” every few bars, but even with the track’s multiple moving pieces—like its raspy-voiced opening verse, a velvety smooth chorus and a fully-embellished climax—they never sound like they’re working too hard.
On the note of climaxes, they pay off nearly every time they appear throughout Heavy Heavy. Young Fathers’ trick is optimizing volume and density for emotional resonance. “Tell Somebody” is the most blatant example, its synthesized organs filling every inch of space available in the mix until it’s a wall of noise. It communicates wordlessly, using maximalism as its language. Young Fathers frequent this technique wherein the music expands to express itself further, like on the closer “Be Your Lady.” There, the group explores their devotion to love without the means to do so, eventually literally pulling love from the bank. Lyrically it’s on the nose, but their machinations allow them to play fast and loose with the surrounding cacophony.
The mantra guiding Heavy Heavy is that blemishes force adaptation. Each track, per Young Fathers fashion, is concise, emphasizing a need to adapt and rely on the tools they have rather than pining for what they don’t. As a result, Heavy Heavy isn’t as pop-oriented as Cocoa Sugar, but it’s filled with character, one which survives outside the boundaries of genres and thrives within strict regulations. Young Fathers continue to elude definition, but Heavy Heavy is an open-armed invitation to celebrate the unintended.
Label: Ninja Tune
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Colin Dempsey is a Toronto-based writer with publications at Consequence, Invisible Oranges, Spectrum Culture, and more. There will always be more to write about, and he wants to cover it all.