Will 'Heavy Heavy' finally gain Young Fathers the recognition they deserve?
The critics love the unique Edinburgh trio, yet they still remain in the underground: this should change with their infectious fourth album.
The last decade has seen Young Fathers decorated in critical success.
And yet it feels like they should be better known than they actually are. 2014 debut Dead won them the coveted Mercury Prize, while 2018’s Cocoa Sugar was awarded the Scottish Album of the Year (or SAY). But for some reason this acclaim hasn’t translated into mainstream success - their record sales have been modest, to say the least. A good example of this is second album White Men Are Black Men Too (2015). The music critics loved it, but somehow it would only peak at number 41 on the UK Albums Chart.
Ok, so chart success and unit numbers aren’t the be-all and end-all. It would just, at least, represent the esteem they’re held in within the indie – granted not mainstream - community. I mean, have a look at some of the unoriginal artists gaining success who don’t come close to these guys' talent (Arctic Monkeys impressionists The Reytons recently had a number 1 album for goodness sake!).
Young Fathers work to date has been fantastic. Initially sold to me as the UK’s answer to New York 00’s indie legends TV On The Radio, it would be harsh to pigeonhole them as anything other than unique (which feels a little corny I know, but it’s true). Myself, like many others, plunged into their back catalogue after hearing six of their songs on the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack. Despite the attention from Danny Boyle’s 2016 smash sequel, Young Fathers diverse sound has been largely ignored by two mainstream stations you’d expect to give them a home: Radio 1 and BBC 1Xtra. Criminally underlooked in my eyes!
The Edinburgh-formed band – who consist of Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole, both from African immigrant backgrounds, as well as Graham "G" Hastings - produce a distinct sound sitting somewhere between hip-hop, pop, gospel and industrial rock. In a music world so keen on dividing lines, Young Fathers are as hard to place in a genre as anyone. “Our music is hip-hop without the rules, just like it’s rock without the guitars” Hastings would state in a recent interview with the Guardian). But the music has a charm which is universal. And at least they have 6 Music fighting their corner.
When fourth album Heavy Heavy was announced late last year - closely followed by the single ‘I Saw’ - I was quick to mark it down as one of the albums I was most looking forward in 2023. The single itself is brilliant: blistering, stomping and anthemic. Once the addictive chorus enters your head, it remains stuck there: “I saw what I saw / I keep on walking the line”. Oh and how easy is it to get lost in its childlike closing refrain: “Brush your teeth / Wash your face / Brush your teeth / Wash your face / Run away”.
True to Young Fathers nature (they've spoken out about racism and the treatment of refugees in the past), the song itself has political connotations. The band describe the track as:
“A big bully with shite down their leg, still swaggering. That pamphlet through your door blaming the establishment and immigrants for everything going wrong. The stench of long-dead empire, trudging along”
Heavy (Heavy) indeed.
Five years since their last (side note: has it really been five years since 2018?!), I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Heavy Heavy is Young Fathers most enjoyable album to date. Why? Well, most obviously is how the majority of the ten tracks will hook you in from the off. Secondly, another large part of its appeal is length.
It takes some discipline for a band to produce a sub-35 minutes, never mind one who’s been out of the game for almost half a decade. Heavy Heavy’s ten tracks weigh in at just under 33 minutes and this succinctness works a treat. Not a second is wasted. This is not to say there isn’t a lot going on, it just doesn’t feel overindulgent in a manner you might expect from an experimental difficult-to-define pop group either.
Positivity and light surround album curtain raiser ‘Rice’. Alloysious Massaquoi described the track on Apple Music as “that feeling of it being joyous…it was the feeling of fresh morning air” and its hard not to sucked in by the tracks gleaming light. A similar vibe is achieved on ‘Drum’ with a euphoric final third rising the neck hairs as the drums, predictably, kick in.
‘Tell Somebody’ begins as a soft choral ballad before plunging into chaos. Meanwhile, first album single ‘Geronimo’ takes a more poignant, emotional turn which, by the end, will make you want to raise your hands in the air and sing along. As we reach the midway point, the album’s immediacy is noticeably palpable. The second half carries on similar vein.
‘Ululation’ has an indigenous primal call as its focal point, supported by a pensive piano to create a surreal yet breath-taking three-minute experience. Later, both ‘Sink and Swim’ and ‘Holy Moly’ ramp up the bass and increase the pace to match the album’s title. As we reach the album’s closer, you might expect ‘Be Your Lady’ to peter the album out as a slow ballad. Suddenly it all kicks off: the drums thump that little bit harder and it becomes an extraordinary noise of anarchy and tension.
Heavy Heavy is fantastic. Honestly, since hearing it in full, I haven’t been able to stop recommending it. The Edinburgh band have spent five years producing a record which has so much to shout home about: noisy, infectious, surreal and soulful in particular. If this doesn’t increase their mainstream standing, nothing else will. Young Fathers music deserves all the attention which should be coming its way.