Review Summary: This only works if you let go too.
In 2017 Young Fathers released their best song, "Only God Knows". Despite its status as a between-albums loosie that only appears on the Trainspotting 2
soundtrack, it best exemplifies the head-scratching mix of lo-fi basement pop, indie hip-hop and gospel that is the Scottish trio's trademark sound. The spine-tingling choir vocals in hindsight feel like a watershed moment for the band, the point in time where they started to turn away from the claustrophobic intensity of their previous work towards the light.
Assuming this interpretation holds weight, it's fair to think of "Only God Knows" as something of a skeleton key for Heavy Heavy
, an ironic title for the band's most joyful and buoyant album. The lingering gospel influence has been excavated to the forefront of the band's sound, replacing much of the hip-hop they had been gradually orbiting away from. From the opening track "Rice", Heavy Heavy
evokes sunny images and feelings of contentment, emphasising the real connection between the three band members, who recorded the album entirely alone in their own studio. The ebullient "Drum" evokes memories of Animal Collective at their heavily-syncopated-foot-tapping best, while "Tell Somebody" feels like a years-later revision of the heartbreaking "Am I Not Your Boy" from DEAD
, here made bittersweetly optimistic by a church organ steadily rising in intensity and a vocal melody that lifts itself up to the sky. The album moves through sun-dappled psychedelic pop, indie rock and tinges of hip-hop like colours wheeling through a kaleidoscope; any given three-song stretch can recall snatches of The Avalanches, Panda Bear and Injury Reserve's By the Time I Get to Phoenix
, with the smoke-choked claustrophobia replaced by a hard-won optimism.
"Just put a big 'life' sticker on it," Alloysious Massaquoi says of the album in an Irish Times interview. "Life experiences. There's a communal aspect to this album, and that's to do with people, and community, and individuals. So it's just an album about... life." Describing it as a tribute to the conflicting, contrasting moods of a New Orleans procession, Massaquoi emphasises the time spent off by all three members reconnecting with their families as a significant influence on the direction of Heavy Heavy
. While Young Fathers' hip-hop days often felt mired in solitude and paranoia, and the conflicted Cocoa Sugar
seemed to be looking forward to a brighter future that hadn't quite arrived - just see the yearning, heartbreaking strains of "Lord" - Heavy Heavy
feels as if they've truly come to some kind of peace. It's a hell of a move, releasing an album this hopeful into a world still licking its wounds and hesitantly embracing intimacy again. But Young Fathers don't owe us anything except themselves, which Heavy Heavy
feels like a true and warmly sincere extension of, a hand extended from the light across the dark, if we're willing to let go and take it.