Album Review: Young Fathers, ‘Heavy Heavy’

By Max Newman

If there’s one thing you can say about Edinburgh-based music group Young Fathers, it’s that they certainly never lack creativity. The band, consisting of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and Graham ‘G’ Hastings, has pushed pop and r&b music to its limits in their earlier work, cultivating a unique and memorable sound. However, for much of the band’s history, they have had problems creating meaningful messages within these sonic scapes. That is, until their latest release, 2023’s Heavy Heavy

Released in February, Heavy Heavy is an emotionally tumultuous project that is as potent lyrically as it is musically. It’s both a hard-hitting, sinister warning and a hopeful and harmonically gorgeous work of art. Despite its runtime of only around half an hour, this record feels complete. 

From the first of its ten tracks, “Rice,” the sheer musical catchiness and lyrical depth of this project are apparent. Hastings, the band’s primary composer and producer, lays down pulsating drums, whining guitars, and a pleasantly fuzzy, monotonal bassline. The words are mesmerizingly fraught, highlighting the struggle of trying to work on oneself amidst internal and external instability. It’s a wonderful whirlwind of an opening, setting the tone for the remainder of the tracklist.

This song structure, built around a single note under layers of noise and mantra-esque vocals, is a theme of the record. This is apparent on the tracks “I Saw” (which features lyrics pertaining to loss and denial), and the fast-paced, monumental “Drum” (which discusses confrontation of one’s fears). On both tracks, Massoquoi, Bankole, and Hastings switch seamlessly between singing and rapping, adding further depth to each arrangement. It’s a simple musical framework, but it works brilliantly.

The dynamics in the musical mood on the record are just as impressive. “Geronimo” features the album’s trademark one-pitched song structure, but also has a more tense, slower-paced soundscape of slowly rotating drums and breathy rapping about the importance of committing to decisions in life. “Sink Or Swim” has a similar message, but is far more synth-heavy and fast-paced, changing the lyrics through musical context.

Even within songs, large emotional ranges exist. On “Shoot Me Down” a frenetic, vocal sample-heavy intro gives way to a dreamy pop melody with defiantly joyous lyrics. “Holy Moly” starts with a grinding bass melody and stuttering drums, before beautiful pianos, vocal lines, and synths slowly layer on top of the track’s skeleton to give the work a new meaning. And perhaps no track uses these shifts in feeling better than the closer, “Be Your Lady,” in which a delicate piano loop gives way to searing synths and heart-punching drums before exploding in  cacophony. This perfectly pairs with lyrics about the cathartic feeling of falling back in love with something. Indeed, the skillful linkage of music and lyrics on this project is impressive, and a testament to the talent of the artists that produced them.

But Heavy Heavy is not a perfect album. “Tell Somebody” feels a little too distant and awash with reverb, with lyrics not packing the same punch as the rest of the project. Musically, “Ululation” is slightly better, but again, there isn’t much substance beyond the track’s pleasant major harmonies. However, these songs are more blips than they are indicative of the tracklist as a whole; this record is a roaring success. It’s rare for a group of musicians so young to touch on such vast topics with such depth. Where Young Fathers will go from here, no one knows. But if Heavy Heavy is anything to go by, we should all be on the edge of our seats. 

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