Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar
You may have never heard of Young Fathers, but if you lived in the UK you may know them from their 2014 Mercury Prize winning album Dead. The experimental Scottish trio blend elements from across the spectrum to create this experimental version of R&B and Rap. Even mentioning those two genres though feels limiting and constrictive for an album that is so willing to stretch. The central focus however always comes back to the rhythm. The beat exists first and from there the group place layer upon layer of diverse sounds on top. It is almost five minutes before you get what we could define as "real" lyrics setting the stage for something interesting and strange. IN the past Young Fathers' songs have been directly political and often troubling like 2015's "Old Rock n Roll" that directly addressed race and the issues with claiming everything is cultural appropriation. Cocoa Sugar plays in the same realm b ut the references have become more veiled and more ethereal. This has allowed for some interpretation and for their music to connect with people so much more than previous offerings. If you are looking for something structured, verse chorus verse, than this is not the album for you. It moves in this really nebulous way sort of swirling in and out allowing certain moments to shine and others to be spun up in the mix. There are a few times where most of the sounds drop and nothing but a piano and vocal push through that feel like pivotal moments. It's the stand up piano that is the unifying force here, it's damn near ever-present and always punctuates the track rather than playing the melody. It's a wild and freeing experience, the record feels limitless and unburdened by expectation.
From what I've said so far you may think this is some kind of wild and experimental album that won't clap everyday, but that's totally wrong. The really amazing thing is how much melody pushes through on this record. "Border Girl" is damn near pretty with this floating quality but it's shattered for the more bombastic and rap heavy "Holy Ghost". Just in case you thought that wasn't enough "Wire" borrows from some of the best of Acid House and Industrial from the UK to create this beat that sits right on the floor and allows the boys to bounce in and out of the track. Being from the UK it feels like they are able to play around with hip hop more than an American band would be allowed to. They don't really have the same constraints of being compared to New York Hip Hop or being accused of not being real hip hop. There is so much music packed into this album's 36 minute run time that you all at once feel overwhelmed and perhaps a little disappointed when it ends. The religious overtones of the album are palpable throughout with allusions to heresy and what religion means in 2018. Cocoa Sugar is meant to be a play on light and dark, bitter and sweet, and this album does just that by giving you things you may have not known you needed to hear, and wrapping them up in something that sounds sweet. A real surprise, and a really solid record.
8.3 out of 10