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Young Fathers
White Men Are Black Men Too Mike Diver , April 13th, 2015 17:25

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Young Fathers' Mercury Prize win in 2014 laid down two paths for career progression come album proper two, which is what we now have in the shape of White Men Are Black Men Too.

One: whatever followed said award-winner, Dead, wouldn't match its critical impact or commercial punch, cueing boring-ass op-eds around "the curse of the Mercury". Two: it'd go better on all fronts, and those same critics would merely point towards the Mercury as the muscle that had lifted them to a higher level of appreciation, not the music itself. In the eyes and ears of their detractors, Young Fathers are in a lose-lose situation right now, however I doubt they could give less than the slightest fuck, because right now Young Fathers are living the good times.

A few years ago, I related the group's potential to that of a nascent Massive Attack: there were the same suggestions of British pop culture smashing against a worldview that really did try to open itself up to all possibilities, just as the music did to influences from any continent other than its own. This wasn't a Scottish band, just as Massive Attack weren't an English one – pioneers amongst Bristol's late-1980s music scene though they were, the former-Wild Bunchers were drinking in inspiration that'd travelled from way beyond the city borders, at a time when the internet hadn't begun to both dilute and distil geographically determined scenes.

Young Fathers' Tape One (a debut EP/mini-album reissued through Anticon in 2013) reached out to Africa, across the Atlantic to the techno-coloured raps of Shabazz Palaces and Saul Williams. It arrived open armed, transparent with its optimism, its ideology simply that no genre should be shackled to the past. You could call them rap, if you wanted. They called their debut album Dead. That's the past, their past, gone – six eyes firmly on the future.

But I can't address Young Fathers' present just yet without returning, one more time, to Tape One. 'Rumbling', one of that short set's obvious standouts (and a banger, still), spoke of "white boy beat" meeting "black boy rhythm". A slightly throwaway observation that, at the time, really only cocked a snoot at anyone who'd be derisive of their multiracial, multicultural make-up; but hasn't it blossomed into something here, on an album that takes that understanding of appearance being skin deep, of what lies beneath being possible in any of us, and spins an album title out of it – and then fills the contents with so much more than binary arguments.

Young Fathers have Nigerian, Scottish and Liberian heritage. They've all been the victims of racism – and sure, I include the white Graham Hastings in that, because there's no way Scots live to their late-20s without hearing shit down south solely because of their north-of-the-border birth (especially given recent political tensions, no doubt). Hastings told the New Statesman last month that he wants racists to hear this album: "Because how do you change things unless you're attacking them in a non-violent way?"

An admirable sentiment, a worthy ethos; but it'd count for nothing if nobody was listening to White Men Are Black Men Too. The confused faces at last year's Mercury turned campaigners for Popular Music to win Popular Prizes would love nothing else. But to return to my earlier point, regarding Young Fathers' lose-lose situation: this album flips that fail-state on its head courtesy of being 39 minutes of utterly triumphant fusion pop. Everyone should hear this.

Rap and rock and soul and more gets mixed into this whole, and it sounds entirely unlike anything else being made in the UK right now – and, honestly, it's hard to imagine any other group being so bold as this, while also keeping hold of instantly hooking motifs beside the envelope-pushing experimentalism and joyous embracing of pan-continental motivation. Everything here screams win-win into your earholes, until all you can do is dance to its insistent demands for a better way of thinking. The Mercury win has given Young Fathers the confidence to do pop on their terms – and those terms are that we never again question their capability to impress the previously unexposed.

This is clear from the word go: 'Still Running' screams and squeals beneath its train-leaving-the-platform percussive shuffle, its vocalists all hands on hearts and hearts hollering to the heavens; but the way everything's simmered into a delectable, delicious and overwhelmingly uplifting end result is uncommonly accomplished. It's stunning, in short. Alloysious Massaquoi, the Liberian-rooted one of three, called his band's sound "Young Fathers music, that's it" when asked by Noisey to place the trio in a pigeonhole. The kind of rhetoric we've all heard too many hundreds of times before in the music press. But bloody hell, doesn't he back it up with the 11 cuts that follow that impressive opener.

The second, 'Shame', is laser guns and luscious lyricism taking shots at those who'd turn on their closest to pull a profit, emotionally or financially: "Nothing but a bare-faced lie / Is all you cunts can hold on to." '27' nods lightly to That Club, over the closest its makers come to church organ atmospherics – even though they're soon enough shattered by pounding drums that could scatter the fauna of the fullest savannah. 'Old Rock & Roll' is aggressive, narrow-eyed and aiming at those who Hastings wants to hear this, the racially charged language of its bridge taking the N-word and repurposing negative connotations to comprise a weapon against those who would dare, in 2015, to shout a man down because of the colour of his skin.

'Nest' is a hands-aloft, eyes-shining celebration of just being, and the love anyone can find by sustaining. 'Rain Or Shine' is a genius call-and-response affair that dispels the desire to pursue religion and opens the door for political critique (or, at least, that's one interpretation). 'John Doe' is the song here that comes closest to being overtly like Another Band – at a distance, it's a ringer for a (awesome, accidentally mislaid) TV On The Radio effort, and is one of several songs that only the dangerously deluded couldn't interpret as music perfectly capable of capturing the attentions of a sizeable audience. It ends with a line in French, actually a Cajun expression: "Laissez les bon temps rouler."

Let the good times roll.

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Jacob L.
Apr 17, 2015 12:27pm

Brilliant pop album. The songwriting is stunning. I cannot stop listening to it.

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