By Kevin McCaighy
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Cocoa Sugar

This article is over 4 years, 3 months old
Issue 435

There has been no shortage of new music released so far this year, but little to lift the heart and soul. Thankfully Cocoa Sugar, the new album by Young Fathers, has answered the call.

It is the third album from an Edinburgh trio comprising Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham “G” Hastings, who won the Mercury Music Prize in 2014 with their debut album Dead.

Their music doesn’t just blur the boundaries between hip hop, dance and electronic music; it eradicates them completely. Their exciting hybrid forms have seen them forge their own path, receiving critical and popular acclaim, and collaborating with their musical mentors Massive Attack along the way.

The group has spoken of wanting to make their sound more linear, but even with that in mind, Cocoa Sugar is precisely that: a bittersweet journey through 36 minutes of allusive and densely compact songs.

“Fee Fi” is an eerie, nightmarish track brimming over with fevered rhymes and droning piano tones. The lyrics are stark and threatening: “And he said/ a nice set of knives/ gimme a slice/ I like your flesh/ I know what’s best”.

Dark times call for dark imagery and deep sounds. The power and drama of the group’s lyrics, and their varied delivery, are their most potent weapons.

The growling “Turn” is constructed out of the merest of materials. A slight reference to the immortal track “Ghost Rider” by synth pioneers Suicide hides in the background. The past is used to illuminate the present with a set of brutally alienated lyrics: “Money buys you isolation/ Give the pied piper a raise/ Sold my shortcomings/ For a price at the bureau of change”.

For all that Young Fathers cast a backwards glance with every genre’s legacy at their disposal, they make music that could only have been created now. The single “In My View” is both introspective and anthemic, the group’s own hunger and desires driving it and them onwards.

Kayus Bankole has said of the album that “these are songs about men who are vulnerable, who are desperate, who are selfish, who are evil”, and there is no shortage of wretched specimens and their sorry lives, from the pitiful protagonist of industrial gospel track “Lord” to the guilty soul searching for redemption on the brooding, experimental “Tremolo”.

Politically on point on the rousing clamour of “Holy Ghost” (“heading to the promised land/ Ruled by the masculine/ tied to your country/ But we’re all from the motherland”) and the harsh, accusatory “Toy” (“Sold for what I get/ I’m burning dirty money to light a cigarette/ I’m not for sale/ I’m not for rent/ I’ll never repent”), each of them comes to their own reckoning.

Cocoa Sugar is an album full of songs to stir the blood and swell the heart, a beam of light in these ever-darkening times.

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