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Album Review: Young Fathers, ‘Heavy Heavy’

Young Fathers’ music tends to careen between moods, and Heavy Heavy is no exception: One of its most exultant refrains, “Feel the beat of the drum and go numb/ Have fun,” is immediately countered by the lines “They’re gonna get you either way/ Whether you cry about today or die another day.” Though Heavy/Light might have been just as much if not more fitting as a title, the Edinburgh trio’s first new album in five years isn’t a study in contrasts so much as synthesis, its sense of sonic overwhelm attributable to both darkness and light. After spending some time away from each other following the success of 2018’s Cocoa Sugar, the group’s spontaneous – or, as press materials put it, “back-to-basics” – approach yielded an abundance of eclectic ideas, but rather than translating them into a typically expansive fourth album, they prioritized density and concision. The result is the shortest Young Fathers LP to date, one that overflows with euphoria even if it can’t shake off all the weight that permeates its existence.

The album’s celebratory approach hits you right away, but it takes a while to truly sink in. The kinetic energy of ‘Rice’ is undeniable, with rumbling percussion and fizzy bass casting a warm glow that doesn’t recede when the song bursts in cacophony – it’s amplified. ‘I Saw’, which follows, works the opposite way, its claustrophobic pulse becoming a source of uplift the more elements it stirs together. Though the undercurrent is one of seething frustration at the world’s injustices, Heavy Heavy maintains its unrelenting intensity without concentrating on a single emotion – be it anger or radical joy – as the only defiant response. It’s only afterward, given the chance to catch your breath, that you realize how heavily it leans in one direction: ‘Tell Somebody’ comes to break the album’s frenetic pace, but it ends up culminating in another explosive crescendo, its orchestral swell offering a glimpse into a less fleeting form of transcendence. The advice on ‘Sink or Swim’ is to “Stop crying ’bout the state of things,” and as giddy as Heavy Heavy allows itself to be, this is one of those tearful moments of catharsis you can’t help but savour.

Across these 10 tracks, the group finds different ways of expressing what seems to be elemental in nature, carving a new path while staying true to their distinctive ethos. Though songs like ‘Holy Moly’ could have fit on an earlier Young Fathers record, the way it skirts the line between glee and frenzy only really makes sense in the context of Heavy Heavy. Lyrically, too, the record spends less time laying out conflicts than communicating this complex dynamic in the most concise yet open-ended terms; the line that stands out on ‘Holy Moly’ is “covered in violence with love around my neck.” Its vulnerability shines through no matter the pace, but it’s especially evident on the celestial ‘Geronimo’, where Graham ‘G’ Hastings admits to feeling “on the verge of something divine that’s gonna keep me in line.”

Throughout Heavy Heavy, this spiritual horizon is perpetually hazy yet visible, extending to all parties involved. Thanks to its overall brevity as well as the trio’s inventiveness, the album never sags but rather revels in its own overblown scope. Because whenever the songs seem like they’re about to erupt or collapse, the thicker its sound gets, the brighter the possibilities seem – somehow heavier, too. While the intent is less confrontational than welcoming, the effect is equal parts awe-inspiring and visceral, and it only sets in when you understand the climate in which it was made. “We’ve delivered something overdosed with humanity,” Kayus Bankole said in DIY profile. “It doesn’t get more political than that.” Still, it’s a quality that’s hard to pull off and can easily lose itself in the noise. Young Fathers, of course, have no trouble carrying it all the way through.

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