Music Reviews
Cocoa Sugar

Young Fathers Cocoa Sugar

(Ninja Tune) Rating - 9/10

The most challenging step an experimental group can take is to make their art sound accessible. Since they formed in 2008, Young Fathers had made it clear that they were going to push themselves towards that direction but under their own terms. Cocoa Sugar, the Edinburgh trio's third full-length, continues their streak of uncompromising boundary-pushing. Their first full-on dalliance with pop songwriting, the former Mercury prize winners are considering what it means to appropriate familiar sounds from radio airplay in their usual twisted way.

Cocoa Sugar works with a difficult sonic template. However, Young Fathers only allow themselves to proceed with such sounds if it benefits their palatable choruses. Backed up with an infectious dancehall beat, In My View serves as an indirect critique of what could happen when you mingle power and lust. Told from a first-person perspective, the single recalibrates More Life-era Drake with a stammering flow that borders on narcissistic: "I really want to take your honour / I'm writing blank checks / I'm a greedy bugger." Sounds like a challenging statement with the makings of a surefire chart-topper, right? Instead, God's Plan currently tops the singles chart featuring Drake's meat and potatoes messianic complex. See How - another frank meditation on the complicated nature of sexual gratification - adopts an industrial chug with serrated textures that split the difference between Suicide and Yeezus-era Kanye West.

The stark minimalism of Cocoa Sugar does concede the opportunity for Young Fathers to level their vocal lines with deranged precision. Fee Fi features one their most creative collaborations yet, as they mimic soulful notes over a cacophony of terse drones and an ominous piano loop. The same applies to the seraphic Lord, an eccentric, gospel-inspired sermon about seeking personal salvation during these troubled times. It steps them further away from their hip-hop roots, which was a nebulous descriptor to start, and opts to construct a rattling, darkly sonic ambiance that shares a slight resemblance to TV On the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain.

What makes Cocoa Sugar such a compulsive listen is how it never repeats itself through its lean 36-minute runtime. Wow, one of the album's more direct offerings, expresses the interjection with a whiff of self-importance, even when they humorously remind themselves of their worth in a sardonic tone. The message Young Fathers provide is usually oblique, better left to open interpretation - Border Girl, for instance, applies a mutated dance beat as they vaguely imply the topic of immigration with a celebratory spin. Except that they immediately follow it with the stunning Holy Ghost, a dead-on commentary on those who use immigration to turn a profit with bold, emotionally charged imagery: "Ooh, what a tragedy / I’m the false currency / Giving you the dollar and not checking the change, yeah."

On Cocoa Sugar, Young Fathers use antagonism as a source of inspiration. The trio often assumes fictitious roles for the sake of making a more forceful point, and when they step out of them, they go against any moral rectitude to sound off on their opinions. But the one defining factor that elevates it above their previous two records is how it welcomes a warm, inviting exterior instead of polarizing their audience. It's easy to dismiss how it also works as a fun diversion, as every abrasive electronic embellishment pulls you in with a mysterious force. Cocoa Sugar is an invigorating listen from beginning to end, and it's hard to imagine any other band making a musical work of art that's as visceral this year. [Believe the Hype]