Young Fathers: “Cocoa Sugar”
Through ruthless innovation and the complete breakdown of process, Young Fathers have crafted and perfected their signature sound on their third album, “Cocoa Sugar,” and it’s their most accessible work yet. The Mercury Prize winners have taken the spotlight for their experimental approach to rap, and with this album, their approach is even more based on trial and error – a record of utter chaos pushed together to form a sort of pattern, a certain cohesiveness out of mere complexity.
The album’s leading single, “Lord,” resembles Perfume Genius’s excellent last record, “No Shape,” with both artists challenging the listener to reflect and contemplate – the ceramic of each song is shattered, the pieces glazed and put together to make the new structure. The effort is anything but patronizing; it is inviting. Rather thancompromising their sound to appeal to the masses, Young Fathers examine their process and create through employing a different approach. The result is a complete refurbishment of their sound – suggesting that the only true maxim for music is relentless experimentation. The same effort can be seen in the album’s most pop-like song, “In My View.” The distinctive lo-fi pop sound of this track can cause it to be seen at surface level as an odd party anthem, but it is anything but extroversive. “In my view, love will never come my way/So when I leave, you’ll be dancing on my grave.” The lyrics are cryptic and the music is opaque – but the song in itself is open to introspection, to a point of navel-gazing.
“Turn” offers a specific moment to be savored that can only come from a Young Fathers song – it’s fractured and sewn together, it isn’t supposed to be understandable, let alone enjoyable, but somehow it effortlessly achieves both. Harmony is traded for chaos, but serenity is not compromised – all of these songs come with ease even to the most untrained ear. Simple piano arrangements are mixed with sporadic beats that are flipped and reversed and played around with to arrive at a place of absolute and utter dramatic quality. The album is melodramatic, and this tone is reflected at every turn, with every voice distorted and every shout sampled.
“Cocoa Sugar” reflects the current culture as it is – without being reductive or retrograde. It replies to the needs of our troubled times, not with concrete answers, but with much-delayed questions. It is not afraid to confront, but it is wary of a full-blown fight. In a recent interview, the band expressed their fatigue with our current corporate landscape: “Pop music and pop culture in general does [sic] not represent the people that it’s [sic] playing to. People who think that doesn’t matter are clueless. People that run radio and TV have a duty to society to portray society in its [sic] purest kind of way.” As they say repeatedly in the last track, “Picking You,” “Good men are strange, bad men are obvious” – this adage feels strangely prophetic when read through their political lens.
It is not known (or, more precisely, not specified) why the album is titled “Cocoa Sugar.” But this epistemic eclipse perpetuated by the band serves to create a certain mystery that comes with experiencing the album. It is allusive only shallowly, where it falls short in creating any sensible connection with feeling or history. It is as if the band is inviting us to fill in the gaps (and make the necessary links) in production, in lyrics, in mood. For me, “Cocoa Sugar” is a half-formed thing, a crossword puzzle waiting to be completed – there are certain words presented on paper, but the listener must provide the meaning.
Expect unexpected feelings to be unearthed by these 12 songs. They will sound familiar, yet are actually totally foreign. What is suppressed will be disclosed, and what is at the surface will be shattered to pieces. Expect to be confused yet surprised. Young Fathers is a rare treat that must be treasured – their sonic vision is unparalleled, unmatched and certainly one of a kind.