Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
Young Fathers are no strangers to controversy. Their style of music, while unique, has been criticized as polarizing, since it usually diverts from traditional hip-hop in favor of a more experimental, genre-less sound. Their Mercury Prize win for last year’s captivating Dead was met with overwhelming confusion as they weren’t expected to win at all. Even their response to receiving the aforementioned award was considered too rebellious (their acceptance speech was no more than 15 seconds). Five months later and Young Fathers have returned with the followup to Dead. With a title like White Men Are Black Men Too, it’s likely that the Scottish/Nigerian/Liberian trio’s second studio album will be met with more controversy than its predecessors, but that’s what they’ve aimed to do all along. Stirring conversation and abandoning their hip-hop roots once and for all, Young Fathers have crafted a chaotic, genre-defying and impressive body of work.
Opening track “Still Running” is a relatively fast-paced preface to the record and its dynamic sound. The vocals are airy and the instrumentation is raw. This track has taken a while for me to appreciate, but in my opinion it’s the only way this record could open. “Shame” follows. It carries a sound similar to the previous track, but its hash lyricism demands the listener’s attention with lines like “Nothing but a bare-faced lie, is all you [censored] can hold on to”. Driven by sharp vocals and a tambourine, it’s one of the album’s best. “Feasting” seems relatively shorter but is still quite unique and raw. “27” is even shorter and could probably be the track that sounds closest to a pop song. It comes off as a more exotic version of fun.’s “We Are Young” with its similar tempo and chord progressions. The added glockenspiel adds a more optimistic tone to the track as a whole.
Lead single “Rain or Shine” is still my favorite track on the record. Driven by a staccato organ and a progressive rock drum pattern, the song relies on multiple layers of distortion and airiness to evoke a sense of eeriness in the listener. Other than its status as a lead single, I believe it’s the best track to represent Young Fathers’ stylistic changes and overall ambience of the record. “Sirens” is one of the more laid back songs on the album. It’s never too layered or too loud. Musically, its seclusive tone lets the listener experience an emotional response akin to that of the response from introspective thought; almost feeling like the perfect soundtrack to a lonely nighttime walk. “Old Rock n Roll” acts as a title track of sorts as it comes from the following line: “Some white men are black men too, [censored] to them, a gentleman to you”. Lyrically, the song describes humanity’s supposed inability to tackle modern issues of race; declaring that we should approach issues head on and not behind closed doors. Musically, it’s the most distorted song on the album. It almost sounds like a warped 50s rock tune, layered with every instrument in Young Fathers’ repertoire. Like its predecessor, “Nest” feels more like a 50s rock tune than a hip-hop track. It’s almost reminiscent of the groups earlier work on Tape One and Tape Two.
“Liberated” is a driving rock song similar to “Shame”. Aside from “Rain or Shine”, its chord progressions are top notch. Its inclusion of a choir also helps the track stand out. “John Doe” could come across as filler to some listeners, but multiple listens solidify its place as one of the catchiest tracks on the record. While “Dare Me” is probably the closest to Dead that WMABMT gets, “Get Started” comes across as the perfect hybrid of Young Fathers’ unconventional sound and doo wop. It’s an odd track to end on, but it does so in the best way possible; by cutting off abruptly.
White Men Are Black Men Too is a force to be reckoned with, whether you care for the record or not. Like previous releases, Young Fathers have thrown out the manual on making a cohesive record. Yet while it’s veiled in musical and lyrical ambiguity, its wide range of stylistic risks make it quite cohesive after all. It’s a little too early to call this the best release in their catalog (I’m still recovering from how great Dead was last year) but it has a great chance of claiming that title.[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REEPJp_GvAQ[/youtube]