We may have found a band that hails from Scotland who have garnered my interest. The only other band to do this were a punk band called The Exploited. It cannot be easy to be a Scottish band when you have shite like Wet Wet Wet and Del Amitri as your ancestors. I guess it could work as an inspiration to work harder.
Young Fathers are based in Edinburgh, although one of the members (Alloysious Massaquoi) was originally born in Liberia. Another member spent a few years living in Maryland and Nigeria before going back to Edinburgh. This kind of world travelling has brought a unique sound to their music. A series of extended plays followed as well as sporadic gigging, which takes us nicely up to this album, in time for Mercury Awards 2014. Last year, I blogged a French post-punk band (great) and Laura Mvula (not so great) so this should be good. So far, I've heard the first track (No Way) and have been well impressed. Hopefully, the rest will be just as good. With a run-time of approximately 34 minutes, it's quite a short album, But seeing as I listen to grindcore, where the average length of a song is 25 seconds, this seems almost epic-like...
Here we go, the album. The first thing that struck me was the cover. It looks like two Eminem clones giving each other a hug. Maybe that's what it is or there is a deep, symbolic meaning to it all that I've missed. Well, it wouldn't be the first time.
The first song is called "No Way" and starts off with what sounds like a squeeze box/accordion before going into a bass-drum-heavy drum loop with what I'm sure is a good rap, but it seems too low in the mix to hear as the aforementioned drum loop, accordion and what sounds like gospel choir vocals drown it out. Having said that, maybe that was the point. They certainly wouldn't be the first to do that kind of effect. The drum loop then turns into some kind of heavy pneumatic effect which gives the whole thing a surreal finish.
"Low" is next and has almost reggae-like vocals. A bit more musical than the previous song, it has a wee melody in the background before - more heavy bass-drum-loops interrupt proceedings for a brief moment. It's been said these guys focus heavily on bass, so I've a feeling this is going to be a prominent feature. Not complaining as the way I see it, if it's done well then doing the same thing over and over is no problem. Christ, Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Motorhead have all made the same album for thirty years!
"Just Another Bullet" - intro sounds like it's played on middle-eastern instrument. Then it slips into what sounds like nothing I've ever heard before. It's bizarre, really. Not complaining though.
"War" opens up with a angry rap before going into a choir effect with handclaps, then the raps start again. I must say, it's refreshing to hear rap that isn't mostly samples with the usual lyrical themes. It goes on like this before switching to the next song without warning! "Get Up" tells us to just that, the melody on this sounds like some kind of TV theme tune from the sixties. More raps about the revolution. Things are starting to sound a bit clearer in the mix now, seems each member is a competently skilled MC who can string some decent rhymes together without resorting to base cliches and lazy rhymes. I'm also sensing a ska influence to this song. Proper ska, mind. None of the shit from the US like Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish and stuff of that ilk. Vocals are quite haunting on this.
"Dip" - starts off with the words "Brute force and ignorace" which is also the name of an EP by Geordie metallers Def Con One (Link to their blogs right here) , but they are totally different. This one is more relaxed although still casting an eye over evildoers. If that makes sense. A bit of tribal drumming and singing over what sounds like a low humming keyboard. It should be noted that the heavy-bass-drum-loops, while quite prevalent, are becoming something more...experimental now. And it also moves into the next song without warning. I'm beginning to feel like they're doing this on purpose. Imagine going out for a meal and the waiter takes each course when you're halfway through. Is this meant to piss us off or make us hungry for more???
"Paying" continues the experimental themes - c'mon, we've got the kind of vocal melodies and lyrics that wouldn't sound out of place on a modern RnB record yet the backing music is totally off the planet. Dunno how they do it, but it works a treat. A bit of screaming in the middle, but a nice mantra to round it off.
"MMMH MMMH" - Should've got a better title, lads. Luckily, the song is better. Noisy bass rumbles and vocal effects. It's easy to hear how they got tagged as "experimental hip-hop". Catchy rhythms too. Almost like Oodlum, a Brazillian percussion ensemble.
"Hangman" starts with a sinister melody and drum beat, In fact, the vocals and lyrics are sinister too but without resorting to the usual hip hop bravado. This is the equivalent of biding ones time before exacting your revenge. Very nice.
"Am I Not Your Boy" is the penultimate track and is one of the experimental ones in the sense that there are a lack of heavy beats and the whole thing has a more ethereal edge to it. A thudding piano melody plays in the background while the choir does it's thing. With perhaps a different and more commercial mix, this would be almost like an RnB ballad or something. Not that I'm saying these guys are merely RnB beneath their experiments. Although I do get the impression they could flit between genres quite nicely. It's good when a band does that.
"I've Arrived" is the final track - and despite a jaunty opening with some quickfire rhymes and atmospheric keyboard melodies, it just doesn't land with me. I dunno why. Seriously, I've listened to it three times now and it just doesn't hit at all. Shame, as it's as well crafted and meticulous as the resot of the tracks on this album. It's usually a rarity that an album can go this long without a track the listener doesn't like (Except in the case of Brokencyde where finding a decent track is like finding a fart in a jacuzzi).
I actually enjoyed this album. Seriously. At first listen, I thought "Oh shit, here we go, another headscratcher of an album I've been made to listen to in order to get me out of my usual routine" but it actually turned out to be the opposite of my expectations. My line above about how the whole thing was probably gonna be all heavy-drum-loops didn't exactly ring true, they were there but there was a lot more thought and texture than I was prepared to give credit for. Production was interesting as well, one minute it seemed as minimalist as the ringtone on a mobile phone from 2001, the next it was all lush and extravagant. I would consider checking these out again in the future, maybe even by digging out some of their EPs.
9/10 - Almost perfect. Almost.
Top track: "No Way",
This album is on iTunes. I'm getting it on payday.