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. Written and recorded over a period of three years (with an enforced break due to the pandemic), it’s exuberant, joyful and angry, fuelled by a love of rhythm and a sense of fury about how the world has declined while they’ve been away. As ever with Young Fathers, it’s completely unclassifiable, and all the better for that – sometimes, they even effortlessly switch genre in the middle of a song. It’s a record full of contradictions: it’s accessible and (often) poppy, yet could never be described as an easy listen.
Their trademark unrestrained energy is all over Heavy Heavy. Kayus Bankole spent some of the band’s downtime visiting Africa, and the influence of Afrobeats is strong throughout the album. Opening track Rice has an infectious drum beat, and hollering backing vocals, and builds up a steady energy that becomes completely hypnotic. Later, the extraordinary Ululation has wordless vocalizations over a blissful melody that, when played loud, makes you feel 10 feet tall.
The controlled anger that powered their previous album is still there too. “I want your shield, I want your weapon,” shrieks the opening line to I Saw which employs a swaggering glam-rock beat to attack the forces behind Brexit (“Sunset gremlin, with a snidey wee smile”). It’s also the type of song that’s almost impossible not to dance to, even if you’re just sat in your chair.
Most importantly, Young Fathers haven’t forgotten the importance of a good hook in a song. Drum is a breathless, exhilarating pop song with an irresistible refrain of “Hear the beat of the drums, and go numb, have fun,” while the frantic percussion of Sink Or Swim helps to propel the song to an unstoppable momentum. Underneath the experimentation and sometimes harsh sound techniques, this is a collection of big pop songs.
It’s an album that’s so crammed full of ideas that it sometimes threatens to become overwhelming. The closing track, Be My Lady, is like two separate songs welded together – one part laid-back sweet soul music, the other harsh, discordant noise that explodes occasionally into life. It’s not jarring or off-putting though: rather, the creativity on display hooks you in, and you find yourself returning to the record over and over again.
At just 10 tracks and clocking in at 33 minutes, Heavy Heavy is a short, sharp blast of energy that never outstays its welcome. Some longer-term fans may be put off by the more poppy approach, but it’s a sound that hangs very comfortably on them. The year may be only one month old, but the first truly great album of 2023 has arrived.