Friday, March 16, 2018

Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar Review

The trio that composes Young Fathers - Kayus Bankole, Graham Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi - make challenging music for challenging times. Beyond their near-undefinable sonic palate, which incorporates a litany of genres that, in typical circumstances don't go cleanly together, their abstract lyrics equally confound with dialogue about sex, religion, culture, and politics. In fact, the title to their previous LP, White Men Are Black Men Too, was the only time they've been blunt with word choice. Young Fathers knows that to make an impact one must provide intrigue before engaging in a compelling narrative. As with all their previous projects, Cocoa Sugar succeeds in doing just that. While the 12-track, 37-minute project fails to toy with their increasingly-redundant song structure, one which finds fear in anything greater than four minutes, the Scotland-based trio continues to exemplify terseness with a fleeting and increasingly hyperactive music community.

There is not a wasted second on Cocoa Sugar, as it's often spasmodic erraticism leaves no moment lingering for too long. This has been the case with Pop music of late, both in R&B and Hip-Hop - the two genres Young Fathers produce the most of - as we've seen through the likes of N.E.R.D., Gorillaz, or Kanye West. Time is of the essence, and if that means colliding fully-composed beats and/or hooks, as No One Ever Really Dies, Humanz, or The Life Of Pablo did, then so it shall be. On Cocoa Sugar, only one track stands against that curb, acting as the insurmountable peak. 'Lord,' the lead single so eloquently described as undanceable by the group, paces itself with precision. The Gospel behemoth is Cocoa Sugar's deity, spreading rays of sunlight, sound, discord, and disarralordy across its various disciples. All while providing a single ideology unto itself, done through a purifying piano ballad and harsh, rapturous noise. "Love wants to give, hate wants the thrills / joy hates the pain, but pain we all need to feel" Alloysious Massaquoi so fragilely declares, laying bare Cocoa Sugar's predominant theme of human complexity.

In life, nothing is simple, despite the overwhelming majority of senseless art making everything out to be black and white. Love comes at the risk of hate, joy comes at the expense of pain. In the clearest of senses, Cocoa Sugar attempts to elucidate that sensation, diving headfirst into the chaos that defines humanity. Many tracks here, like opener 'See How' or closer 'Picking You,' find Young Fathers looking to the sky for answers on relationships that continually perplex. Each of these represent some of Cocoa Sugar's best efforts, both with lyrical richness that ponders significance ("I've never seen wicked ones face their fears, I've always seen brave men filled with tears" on the former, "The only time I go to church is when someone in the casket" on the latter) and production that eschews formality. On Cocoa Sugar, Young Fathers attempted, and succeeded, to brandish themselves as queer Pop innovators. They abide by formulaic routes only to color them with rich, minimalistic textures. 'See How's' an accessible R&B credo if not for the wretchedly out-of-tune violin, whereas 'Fee Fi' raps circles around a nursery rhyme and 'Wow' marries a euphoric epiphany with Dan Deacon piano work and subtle Doo-wop. On 'Wow,' and a few other spots like 'Border Girl' and 'In My View,' the comparisons to TV On The Radio become ever more fruitful.

The old adage that Young Fathers, in the seven years since Tape One, has failed to make a bad song still reigns true. However, unlike the near impeccable White Men, there are a few pieces that squander opportunity. These largely come towards the end of the record, with 'Holy Ghost' and 'Toy' the active detractors. The former, ripe with energy, idles around an overly-complicated Abstract Hip-Hop beat that feels inspired by Brockhampton, whereas 'Toy' never gains an identity after throwing a litany of Young Fathers cliches into its concoction. Between these two is 'Wire,' a swift and beastly psalm that rivals Paul White's production work on Atrocity Exhibition, and succeeding them is the lovely marching band send-off 'Picking You,' which beguiles with sounds of a promised holy land, only to end the record by reiterating that "you'll never find your way to heaven." Young Fathers are masters at crushing satisfaction, denying clarity, and circumventing expectation. We see that on one of Cocoa Sugar's definite standouts, 'Turn,' where a nominal darkness grows into a world of color, a noted transformation given the track's growing apprehension towards uniformity ("Don't you turn my brown eyes blue, I'm not like you, I'm nothing like you"). Cocoa Sugar continues to prove Young Fathers' heterogeneity, defining the undefinable, describing to the best of their ability the wordless emotions everyday contradictions, whether religiously, romantically, or politically, arouse.

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