Review Summary: "Do we agree on everything we discuss?"
If asked, I could say a lot of individual things about Cocoa Sugar
, the third studio album from Scottish trio Young Fathers. The problem arises while thinking about how to arrange my words effectively. The entire project is an amalgamation of different styles clashing together, some fusing properly, others crumbling on impact. It becomes difficult to discuss the album in a way that critiques one element and easily flows to an appraisal of the next, since everything happens at once. That could absolutely be considered a testament, a positive one, that declares how unique the album is. Pinpointing certain influences that make up the majority of Young Fathers' sound is futile, as it is all compressed into a homogenized unit and becomes truly unique. In the same breath, these terms could be used to describe the album negatively. Too many sounds are occurring, and the possible beauty of each individual layer is shrouded by the next. I can go either way.
You don't have to take my word for it, though. In an interview with The Scotsman, Young Fathers reveal that it's easy to cause rifts of tension between members of the band. "We’re a band that probably should have split up over creative differences ten years ago,
" says Graham Hastings, one of three members who can end up taking any role he needs to have. "But you batter through it, that’s what makes this band what it is.
” This makes a lot of sense, since Cocoa Sugar
can and will painfully shift from an industrial-tinged hip hop beat (Turn
) to a somber piano tune with passionate singing (Lord
) to please a different crowd. In fact, that piano tune can have the same makings as some of the other hip hop songs.
Occasionally, these attempted blends that reach across the wide spectrum of musical genres do work well. A personal favorite is Border Girl
, which seems to feature some sampled beatboxing and background gang vocals that strangely fit with the rest of the song. Other times, it sounds clumsy. Fee Fi
is a track that will traverse anywhere it wants, utilizing an eerie nature to fit some tantalizing lyrics. Its intro has what sounds like all three members of Young Fathers singing a passage haphazardly. One voice attempts to carry the rhythm while the other two will jump in behind it from time to time. Fee Fi
's instrumental refuses to shift in order to honor the changing vocal styles, so it adds to a confused nature.
Again, it is troublesome to try and tackle whatever Cocoa Sugar
has to offer in the way of an overarching theme. If anything, there were multiple stories written that were, at one point, meant to be used as a whole concept. Little pieces were then taken and applied to individual songs. Another portion of that Scotsman review makes that somewhat less surprising--Hastings points out that the band's most powerful crutch "is to stick to one thing." He goes on to refer to the album cover, ergo the album itself, as "an imperfect beauty." I cannot deny how fetching some of the sound design is in sections of the album, and when lyrics do become prominent, they're undeniably catchy. Too much deviation and overpowering sounds become a very noticeable problem, though. It accidentally reveals the compromises made in nearly every song, sounding more engineered and tweaked than necessary, and less like a human every time.