Can we forget about the Mercury? Probably not but I fear this may descend into a critique of the Mercury decision rather than critique of a piece of music. Anyway, let’s have a roll and see how this works out?
For me, this is an album of 11x 3 min pop tracks (no song under 2 min 50, none over 3 min 51). I am sure we will debate the word ‘pop’ as I think at least one of us will struggle with that definition? I would argue that you can’t have as many hooks in one album of 3 min tracks and it not be a ‘pop’ album. It doesn’t matter that the group choose to deliberately sabotage their own ‘pop’ credentials in dark, dystopian, discordant, choral chants, nose-diving bass lines and berating beats.
This isn’t easy listening. Having said that I found it effortless to get into (not bragging I just think this ticks loads of my boxes). But I understand that most people find the opposite to be true. I’ve recently gone back (album released in Jan 2014) and read loads of reviews of this album and most say that it is difficult to penetrate but massively rewarding when you do. I always bang on about ‘when’ I can listen to music and this is a distracting listen that really requires you to engage in its finer points. Background music this is not. Tunes to play while working? Nope. Driving, public transport etc, Yep. I listen to it most when training.
Much has been made about the multi-cultural make up of the band which all feels a little ‘Mercury’ to me until you start listening to the lyrics and picking through the subject matter. ‘Ak47 take my brethren straight to heaven’ is pure hip hop cliche in an LA accent but it appears more impactful and evocative in an African (Young Fathers = Liberian, Nigerian. Scottish) accent and preceded by the imagery conjured up in the opening verses of ‘No Way’, the albums opening track. If you like this album then I would suggest spending some time with the lyrics of these tracks.
I think this album avoids the ‘worthiness’ which it could have created with its multi-ethnic (Scottish included) influences and a lyrical topics. It feels like all of the constituent parts (ethnic background: check / socially conscious lyrics: check / eclectic influences: check) make for a cliche-ridden horror show but at each opportunity to fall into that hipster trap is swerves either lyrically or sonically and avoids the cliche. As if sat in the studio they felt it a track was getting a bit too nice so they chucked in a massive tribal rhythm and discordant drone to scare off the ‘wrong crowd’.
Who does this sound like? Anti-Pop Consortium, TV on the Radio, Shabazz Palaces, New Flesh, Saul Williams … New Fathers?As mentioned before this ticks loads of my boxes and I love all of the artists listed above (Shabazz excluded – sorry David may be I need to try that one again?).
So, similar to FKA Twigs, at the point of winning the Mercury, they’d only sold 3,000 units. Its now at least 3,004. But does this matter? Sales does not correlate to quality. Just look at the Cinema Box Office.
Brothers, your thoughts?
17 thoughts on “DECEMBER: Young Fathers: Dead”
It’s finally just arrived, so I’m about to give it a spin…
Excellent. Technically still early though 🙂
First listen: gosh, not what I was expecting at all. I mean, in a good way I think. You’re right, it’s weirdly not a hip hop album and more like a pop album. Or is it? Anyway, MORE SOON…
Glad you’re having a similar experience. It is hook central.
I’m really, really not sure what I think of this album. I can’t think of the last time I happened. These are the two thoughts I keep having every time I listen:
a) This is really fresh and original and ooh, I like that hook.
b) This is really samey and it lacks something.
I honestly can’t work out which one of those opinions is my ultimate take on it. Probably a mixture of the two. Anyway, give me a couple of days and I’ll be back with other thoughts…
Btw, check out the other 2 trax I just posted, bitches.
Right.. so this is a tough one. I approached this album wanting to love it but am struggling. The thing is, it’s won the Mercury so I’m looking at it from a tainted angle.
This album isn’t origional for me. Sixtoo and Buck 65 were making music like this in the late 90’s and it was (in my mind) better as they were breaking ground back then. This was soon followed by the likes of Antipop Consortium.
I have given this about 20 goes and there to me is NOTHING that points to Scotland on this album (not essential but would make them stand out). It felt like on most tracks they were being out there to sound unique…. but weren’t abstract enough if that’s what they were going for. For example, Kool Keith and El P are out there and make it work.
There are so many other artists like these guys that do it better. I suggest checking out Gonjasufi, he’s doing what these guys can’t seem to hit for me.
As I say, Mercury may have tainted this for me but I think there were better albums than this that were nominated and I think there are better albums of this genre to check out.
Did you want bag pipes (which are actually present) and lyrics about shortbread?
Brother David. I know where you’re coming from. I’ve been listening more today with your comments in my mind. I know what you mean about the ‘samey-ness’. I personally don’t have a problem with it. I guess one man’s ‘samey’ is another man’s ‘consistent style or theme running through an album’?
I don’t want to be the defender of this album just cause it’s my month but I rate this Mercury or not.
As for originality its a tough one as I can see things in it that I recognise from other artists but I’ve not heard music that sounds like this with vocals like this before. However, I don’t know the artists that Nolan has mentioned other than Anti-Pop Consortium. I’ve always thought that we should explore things like this with our monthly albums i.e. if A sounds like B then we should explore B as a collective? Perhaps we could do that here? I am listening to Sixtoo as we speak and really like it, I’ve been listening to loads of instrumental hip hop recently.
OK. I’m calling it: I like it. I don’t love it, but I really do like it. It is a very beguiling sound. And hey listen, if it was all as good as track 2, LOW, it would be a gorgeous monster of a record. And it’s not quite that.
Nolan, I hear the Anti-Pop Consortium thing in there, but for me the biggest influence is TV On The Radio, even though they’re not a hip hop outfit at all (though I’m not sure that Dead Fathers are either, really). There is enjoyable difficulty in trying to pin down what it is, and I don’t agree with Nolan that it’s all been done before. It’s a move, it’s an experiment, in a certain direction and some of it comes off really well and some of it less so.
As for Nolan’s criticism of it not sounding Scottish, joking aside, I know what you mean. It has no sense of place. What’s interesting in the few interviews I’ve seen with them, is that they clearly don’t feel Scottish and have no sense of pride about where they live. They actually sounded kind of isolated, and also, they’re either first or second generation immigrants who’ve lived all over the shop. Hence the lack of haggis and Teenage Fanclub references in their sound ;-). That rootlessness, actually, is probably the most interesting thing you can pick up in what they’re doing.,
So. I’m listening to this more than I’d thought. And I’m coming back to it. It’s *interesting* and that’s more than most things in 2014. But I’d still say that their Mercury victory in what was a very weak field says a lot about how fractured and bedroom-bound most interesting British music is right now.
Sorry, an addendum, as I’ve just been listening to the album again. Let me highlight a track that typifies a problem: Track 9: “Paying”. Nice paranoid downbeat sample, but then where does it go? And the lyrics seem littered with quite a few cliches. And then it breaks down in the middle and it’s literally muttering. And then it starts again.
Come on guys, if you can make LOW and Get Up, you can cut down on the filler like this.
I had identified ‘Paying’ as a weakness too Brother D.
I’m glad you called it though Brother David. Its too comfortable on the fence and we often end up there in our reviews.
Have you noticed that we find way more common ground in music from the stuff we post but is not album of the month? I realise this is usually a track vs an album but there are notable albums that I associate with this blog that at least 3 of us loved that were never albums of the month (Perfume Genius, Frank Ocean). Do we come at Album’s of the Month differently? As proper music people do we generally like to discover things for ourselves and are therefore subconsciously negative about music that is recommneded or thrust upon us? Just a thought and perhaps an interesting debate?
No, I don’t think that’s it, Brother Joey. I honestly always want to love whatever the Album of the Month is. I come to it hopefully. I just think that some choices have stuck and some haven’t.
Listening to this again today btw. Been coming back to it more than I’d have thought.
I will admit that I find it easier to be open minded about music that I ‘discover’ myself. Its far easier to like stuff that washes over me vs when I sit down and think ‘what do I think of this?’. I noticed this very early in the blog and always consciously approach one of our albums with a ‘what do I like about this’ as it can be too easy to slip into the opposite approach.
I think perhaps the difference between what we post and what we choose as albums is that the posted tracks tend be relatively obscure stuff that none of us have any opinion / background on whereas album wise we often choose stuff that in some way or other we have ‘history’ with; an Award Winner / Favourite, Something that other friends liked but we didn’t etc.
Ha, brother Joey.. not bagpipes and haggis. Just want a bit, at least an accent or something. A bit on the Dizzy Rascal tip. I like Hip Hop acts to rep where they are from a bit. These guys seem to try and sound American if anything.
I would like to think that with every month I try to listen to an album with an open mind. The difference with approaching an album compaired to an ablum I would go out and buy for myself is that I research and album before buying, and most instances listen to it before hand on Spotify. Therefore going in blind on an album at times can be harder as it may not be what you’re in the mood for at the time.
Its a good call re being in the right ‘mood’ for music. Your point re going in blind to an album is also spot on … as we rarely go into an album blind e.g. Mercury Award Winner (baggage) / Mercury Front Runner (baggage) / Ex-Huge Hype Band etc etc. Its close to impossible to come at it fresh.
Ok, so I’m not really up to date here, so I apologise. But I’m still trying to get my hand round this album.
It’s different, and that’s in a good way. But I do struggle with modern hip-hop. Probably the only albums of hip-hop I’ve really connected with in the last decade have been Q-Tip’s Renaissance, The First Serve album, and Frank Ocean’s (which is only really hip-hop in parts). I just find it hard to connect with more than anything. I have listening time at such a premium and hip-hop needs real investment in time for me.
What I’ll say so far is that it’s different. Yes, it’s hip-hop, but some of the tracks are barely that, and there are melodies and structures that challenge it, so much so that I do agree with this being ‘pop’ (but then that stretches the definition). In fact it stretches most definitions. I struggle with any reference point as I just don’t have them like many of you do, but it’s a challenge, and I like a challenge.
Better late than never, I’ll persevere.
I actually like a few tracks on this – Get Up, and Low is really great – but I think what puts me off mostly is that one of their m.o.s is this wilful out-of-tune thing, discordant melodies when things are usually in sync, and while it’s interesting to hear something pushing against the flow, it just grates after a while, and I find myself being put off by it. Sorry, but not sure I’ll ever take to this fully, though Low is a great track.