Release Date: Mar 9, 2018
Record label: Ninja Tune
Glancing at the artwork for Cocoa Sugar, one is instantly reminded of Bacon's work. With its distorted and menacing anatomy, it simultaneously provokes both revulsion and awe. Like Bacon, Young Fathers have often borrowed inspiration from far-reaching genres to create their own unique art and socio-political commentary. Cocoa Sugar is the sound of the three-piece brilliantly streamlining their art to piercing and disarming effect.
"Nothing but a barefaced lie/Is all you cunts can hold on to." A lot has gone down since the unshakeably fierce sentiments of Young Fathers' single Shame soundtracked, at least for this reviewer, the 2015 UK General Election. The success of their first two records (one a Mercury Prize winner, the other Say Award nominated) has done little to tame their truth-seeking instincts. In the three years since this powerfully prescient track was released, Young Fathers have deepened and expanded their purview with the dazzlingly incisive Cocoa Sugar.
The most challenging step an experimental group can take is to make their art sound accessible. Since they formed in 2008, Young Fathers had made it clear that they were going to push themselves towards that direction but under their own terms. Cocoa Sugar, the Edinburgh trio's third full-length, continues their streak of uncompromising boundary-pushing.
Three years ago, Young Fathers were seemingly on top of their game, on top of the game, gobbling up awards, critical praise and a lengthy touring schedule, including supporting their Nineties forebears, Massive Attack. The trio of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and 'G' Hastings released their last album White Men Are Black Men Too relatively quickly after their Mercury Prize-winning, breakout debut album Dead, featured heavily on the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack and ultimately broke down simplistic conventions of what it means to be an "alternative" band in the UK. They appeared suddenly, but flew straight to the top and stayed there, even in the face of a burnout that would kill off many other, lesser, artists.
Young Fathers do not tend to mention politics explicitly on Cocoa Sugar but the weight of three years of political turmoil since their last album looms large over this new record. Like Kendrick Lamar's DAMN., it captures the anger and frustration of the current moment without directly addressing the cause. Instead, it lets its ingenious mix of soul, Krautrock, and hip-hop speak for itself.
Edinburgh trio Young Fathers have always existed left-of-centre but only a couple of steps shy of the mainstream. A 2014 Mercury Prize win for decidedly strange, scrappy soul debut 'Dead' didn't catapult them towards all-out stardom. Nor did a spot on Danny Boyle's 2017 T2 Trainspotting soundtrack, or the more chiselled and streamlined 2015 LP 'White Men Are Black Men Too'.
Young Fathers have always sat firmly in the realm of the unexpected. From being as surprised as anyone when they picked up the Mercury Prize in 2014 for debut 'Dead' to following it up less than a year later with 'White Men Are Black Men Too', the Edinburgh trio's rise has largely come from their unwillingness to compromise, relentlessly forming their own path. It makes sense, then, that they chose 'LORD' to be their comeback single, a slow, glitchy, strangely uneventful cut.
Young Fathers have always marched to the beat of their own manifold drums, so it came as a bit of a surprise when the trio teased their new era with 'Lord', a sanguine-sounding track, featuring choir chants, piano and a euphoric, anthemic chorus. 'Cocoa Sugar' the trio's third effort, was created in an effort to abide by loose convention, the Edinburgh trio - comprised of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham 'G' Hastings - making a concerted attempt to create "linear-sounding" music. Could this record signal a reinvention to appease the Radio 1 demographic? Would they be setting their sights on the charts? The answer is, no.