March 28, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: R&B trio blends musical ideas to great effect

Heavy Heavy

Ninja Tune

The alternative R&B Scottish trio, Young Fathers, is back to hypnotize listeners with fantastic rhythmic compositions, cohesive blends of various world music and poetic lyrics that are as hopeful as they are personal.

This Edinburgh trio consists of Liberian-born Alloysious Massaquoi, Scottish-Nigerian Kayus Bankole and Edinburgh local “G” Hastings. The group has been working together since 2008 and has had a long career, from writing songs in dank basements to receiving the Mercury Prize, the highest award an album can receive in the United Kingdom. Their last album, “Cocoa Sugar,” (2018) was alright, but it did not live up to their previous works. But six years and one pandemic later, Young Fathers have a new batch of songs by way of their latest LP, “Heavy Heavy.”

The opening track, “Rice,” is a perfect way to introduce to the listener what they are about to experience. The African drum beats are blended with western pop vocal stylings in a way that is truly remarkable. Lyrically, this track is about finding joy in music again after a tumultuous time for everyone. It is awe-inspiring and surprisingly optimistic.

However, Young Fathers is a band obsessed with contrast. Mixing musical influences from all around the world into one track is the band’s signature style. Every song on “Heavy Heavy” is a collage of international music while still being rooted in Western pop music. And lyrically, the happy songs tend to be contrasted with cynical lyrics about powerful institutions that need to be toppled, whereas the slower songs tend to be about sublime concepts greater than ourselves. Young Fathers want to make it clear to listeners that the world is complicated, and that the nuances of life are impossible to convey in the song. But that isn’t going to stop them from trying.

Young Fathers is a showcase of the power of blending musical cultures together. “I Saw” has a bouncy synth bass that somehow matches the politically charged lyrics. The song “Drum” is a gospel song that is infused with a western dance groove while Bankole sings in Yoruba. This is contrasted with “Tell Somebody,” another gospel-style song that prominently features organs and is much more sparse in the lyrics.

Other highlights from the album include the abrasive and funky “Ululation,” the poppy and infectiously groovy “Sink Or Swim” and the inspiring “Holy Moly.” The album itself flows seamlessly between the juxtaposing songs and ideas, feeling more cohesive as a unit rather than just existing as a collection of songs. 

While the songs play with so many ideas, they never are fully allowed to come out and play. Songs like “Tell Somebody” and “Shoot Me Down” are both over-compressed and are not allowed to be bigger than just a song.

“Heavy Heavy” is a brilliant blend of musical ideas that leads the listener on an unexpected journey as entertaining as it is funky. With a career that has already had so many highs, Young Fathers show us that they are still moving forward in their musical journey, and no one can anticipate what they are going to bring next.

Andrew Tell can be reached at