Young Fathers: Dead – While your mother may have told you never to judge a book by its cover, what she may have failed to mention is that this advice should never be taken literally. Many book covers were once very telling of the author’s work: Fitzgerald rewrote sections of Gatsby to reflect Francis Cugat’s elaborate cover, while early science fiction novels were appropriately adorned with mind-blowing surrealist landscapes. But in today’s culture of effortless dust jackets, it’s the album whose cover more openly invites judgment, as Radiohead adopted equally-fitting imagery for their works of science fiction in order to add another dimension to their paranoid futuristic prophecies, and Drake, though not quite our generation’s Fitzgerald, was allegedly moved by the work of his latest cover’s artist.
Taking this into consideration, it’s somewhat less shocking to hear Young Fathers’ debut LP after viewing its post-humanity, post-vitality, cusp-of-apocalypse, inverted black-and-white cover depicting a hopeless THX-LUH embrace. But even for a product of the weirdo factory known as Anticon (proud young father of this, this, and even this) the Scotland-via-Africa trio’s unique brand of post-post-post rock mixed with postmodern hip-hop and experimental experimentalism is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, perhaps making them the post-er boys for a new wave of idiosyncratic dance music. After capitalizing with TAPEs ONE and TWO over the course of the past three years, Young Fathers sink into the undeniably unorthodox depths of minimalist morbidity on Dead, an instrumentally violent album about war, religion, post-pubescence, and their resulting insanity.
Essentially what Dead is composed of is the leapfrogging vocals of singers Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and “G” Hastings, which range from rap to falsetto to R&B – sometimes all in the same song – and the backing nasally synths and rattling bass of a broken pop song. While the Edinburghers are commonly compared to such trail-blazing acts as Massive Attack and Shabazz Palaces, Dead often sounds as if it was inspired by TV on the Radio’s open letter to Science played with a blown speaker in a war-ravaged city in the disturbingly near future. The opener, ‘No Way,’ shares the subtle playfulness of ‘Dancing Choose’ and the vocal similarities of Alloysious and Kayus to Tunde Adebimpe are often uncanny.
But by track two it becomes evident that Young Fathers’ mission is to eschew all comparisons, as further proven by, well, all of their other tracks. ‘Low’ forecasts the impending vocal non-sequiturs while a distinctive BLAM-BLAM-BLAM-reload beat attempts to drown out the gentle chimes and minimal synths. Fadeout to the jaw harp and slowly-deflating electric bagpipe of ‘Just Another Bullet,’ the kind of song that vibrates your vehicle and makes passers-by wonder what you could possibly be listening to. Keep in mind that the Fathers are still managing to maintain that pop song charm that refuses to back down in the face of such unruly lyrics as “when the revolution comes, stab your brother!” and “don’t shoot the messenger, shoot the messenger’s mother, fucker!” and “you’re not dead ‘til I kill yah!”
It’s this intensity that finally sees its boiling point on the eerie ‘Paying,’ which also seems to use TVotR as a designated launch zone. Falsetto is overshadowed by manic and inscrutable Scottish-via-Nigerian fury that places the listener directly in Bankole’s spray zone and corners Death Grips with a dunce cap. It’s almost as if the juvenile dads are finally snapping under the pressure of a post-domesticated society and succumbing to the madness they’ve so vehemently protested up until this point. It’s moments like this that categorize Dead as more than just an album, but a shared experience: it’s an invitation to view the world from the bleak perspective of a well-traveled threesome who opt to confine themselves to their basement where their only tape player broke years ago resulting in a musical ferality that’s rendered them unable to discern black from white, hip-hop from pop. While the cover depicts the inevitable ambiguity of a black-and-white world, the title may very well reference the state of song structuralism.
Coming off the heels of their short-lived and infant approved mixtape series, their debut may come off as somewhat repetitive, perhaps even disappointing at moments to their perpetually-growing fanbase. It certainly isn’t a vast improvement from its preceding releases, but so far it’s certainly succeeded in turning heads and advancing their own plot. Even if they’re not canonized as pioneers of experimental hip-hop, they’re sure to attain some sort of cult status, Dead being the securer of that fate…9.1/10