Underneath the experimentation and sometimes harsh sound techniques, this is a collection of big pop songs that make up an album crammed full of ideas When Young Fathers announced the release of their first album for almost five years back in October, they described it as a “back to basics” record – “just the three of us in a basement studio, with some equipment and microphones” ran the line in the press release. If that suggests that Heavy Heavy is somehow Young Fathers Unplugged, the reality is something quite different. For there’s an awful lot packed into Heavy Heavy’s 10 tracks.
This only works if you let go too.
In 2017 Young Fathers released their best song, "Only God Knows". Despite its status as a between-albums loosie that only appears on the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack, it best exemplifies the head-scratching mix of lo-fi basement pop, indie hip-hop and gospel that is the Scottish trio's trademark sound.
Young Fathers are masters of chiaroscuro, commanding the darkness with frenetic percussion and pulsating electronics that drill deep into caverns until they find an opening and let a single beam of light flood the expanse. The spontaneously soulful trio glory in harmony through contrast, unity through eclecticism, revolution through dance. On their previous release, 2018's Cocoa Sugar, this paradoxical drama of darkness and light plays out like a subterranean stream gurgling just under the surface--the drums simmering with potential energy and the three singers' vocal lines simply floating, weightless.
Listening to I Saw, one of the singles which preceded 2014 Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers' fourth album Heavy Heavy, reminds one of hearing Stones songs of the magnitude of Jumpin' Jack Flash or Gimme Shelter. It's urgent, insistent, a call to action or even arms; and yet it hammers its colours to no political mast and makes no specific demands of its listener. It's the best kind of protest music, not falling into the easy trap of what the band call political "finger-wagging", but instead inviting in the listener's imagination as an active participant in their revolution.
Opener 'Rice' with its pogo-ing bassline morphs from a jangly shuffle to an eruptive finale like a magic trick. The layers continue to shift like tectonic plates across the record, smoothly rearranging the terrain beneath the songs as they go. The group's knack for hooks allows this trick to be pulled off, acting as a distraction while the scene around it changes, as is evidenced on 'I Saw' and 'Drum'; their vocals collide on the former to stunning effect exorcising the spirit of the song while percussion and synths flutter behind the addictive melody of 'Drum'.
Something you notice when you see any promotional photographs of Young Fathers – high-school friends Alloysious, G and Kayus – is that they are always close – always touching, always connected, hands on shoulders or embracing. It's a striking assertion from the band; andthat togetherness is an attitude that is echoed throughout their work. Lyrically and musically, it's always felt like they have a 'purpose', that they've driven each other to push their own limits, and the boundaries of their craft.