The Weight Of The World: Heavy Heavy By Young Fathers

The Edinburgh trio pull out all the stops on an album that hurtles by at a febrile pace, finds Nathan Evans

Young Fathers. Credit: Fiona Garden

On Heavy Heavy, Young Fathers set out to deliberately overwhelm. The Scottish trio’s last album, 2018’s Cocoa Sugar, was an insular project that carried emotional heft – ‘In My View’ and ‘Lord’ in particular – but never felt like it left the room. By contrast, Heavy Heavy pushes the physical intensity of their early work to a fervent extreme. Somehow, four albums in, they’ve managed to create something more massive, more explosive and more earnest than ever before.

As is the case with all their work, band members Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham ‘G’ Hastings adopt an open-ended lyrical style on Heavy Heavy. Individual lines can be very clear and striking, but pull all the lyrics of a song or the album together, and the semantics are lost. Meanings can be multiplied and personal, but the music will embolden whatever you take from the album.

Almost as a reaction to the sparseness of Cocoa Sugar and the big cloud of events in between that album and now, Young Fathers find joint ecstasy on every track, but it comes in different forms. Be it a poppy hook that buckles your heart the second you hear it, a corona of voices and instruments, or a grand display of noise that feels like mountains crashing into each other. Even ‘Be Your Lady’ does it in its own way, starting as a spotlit piano ballad before detonating into a cacophonous display of splashing drums. The band wrings the potential out of every song while avoiding the trappings of triteness.

‘Drum’ wriggles with energy as it barrels down a hill with an invigoratingly-sung hook and oscillating electronics. “Hear the beat of the drums and go numb,” Alloysious commands before launching into a giddy rap that plays chase with the breakneck rhythm: “I foiled the mission / no superstition / I am the vision / young black gifted with ambition.” By the end, the track juggles a maddening amount of stimuli, but even as it grows in scale, so does its focus around the core of the track.

The band has often spoken about lyrically attacking opposing forces in a non-violent way, and on Heavy Heavy, they continue this by creating imagery that highlights the institutional fear and corruption that stalks the UK today. ‘I Saw’ has the energetic dance-punk of early Battles as Kayus calls out the police (“a bad seed / a rotten apple / take out the rubbish / buried in between justice”) with the thickest of snarls. The song crests with a helium-huffed choral section permeating through an overwhelming wall of noise: “Brush your teeth / wash your face / run away,” they call out with increasing urgency.

Similarly, ‘Sink or Swim’ sounds like a coked-up ska track that responds to the increasing wealth inequality worsened by the cost of living crisis. “Oh baby, won’t you let me in / so much water, not a drop to drink,” Alloysious cries. The proverbial water rises, reflecting an urgency to the current economic, environmental and political turmoil, as though they’re telling us that change looms one way or another. “Get your elbows off the table / see the hell on Earth,” G whispers on ‘Geronimo’.

Though the band members have been affected by national issues happening around them, that doesn’t tell the full story here. Personal issues are being exorcised as well, and Young Fathers do so by locking their demons in a room and interrogating them with all their creative strength. They find solace in West African music as Yoruban chants cross with goofy Black Midi-style vocal exertions; ‘Ululation’ is entirely in Yoruba and feels like an exhale of rejuvenation with its sunrise synths and a rickety piano. On the record’s opener ‘Rice’, you hear the band conjuring up a storm with spiritual harmonies and tantalising Afro-funk rhythms. “These days! Can heal!” they yell in unison amongst clanging pots and overblown bass.

Gospel-inspired cuts offer more clarity on the extent of their wounds. ‘Shoot Me Down’ pleads for salvation before being comforted by a kiss on the temple, while ‘Tell Somebody’ aims to be an actuator for unrested minds. The track is a piece of ambient sedation at first, with Alloysious reaching a cold, echoey falsetto that sings, “you sleep / but your soul ain’t sound”. As he repeats “tell somebody, please”, the pressure boils into tsunami crashes of clipped noise backed by silver strings.

Painted with a fine brush, the following track ‘Geronimo’ soars from trip-hop intimacy to ecstasy. G talks about the weight of having a family in a couplet that encapsulates the responsibility and everyday joy that comes with it: “being a son, brother, uncle, father figure / I gotta survive and provide / My momma said you’ll never ever please your woman / But you’ll have a good time trying.” Celestial synths fold into operatic background vocals like a solar eclipse as he professes to be “on the verge of something devine that’s gonna keep me in line”, as though this family he’s built for himself has given him purpose. Alloysious’ “geronimo, get on, get off” hook is almost pained in its earnestness and the song rises with Beach Boys vocal harmonies and a small but uplifting key line. At the apex, G lets out a gut-punch howl that sounds like it pushes all the demons out of his body all at once. It’s an eye-watering breakthrough.

Heavy Heavy is an album of ultimatums. Faced with a decaying world, Young Fathers pack so much conviction into their performances that you cannot help but react to it with visceral movement and awe. They look at the current state of the Earth and draw confident optimism from it, prophesying not that we’ll save it, but that it will crumble into a clean slate.

‘Holy Moly’ is the most turbulent track on the record. Seismic drums rumble underneath. The boyish chorus creates a feeling of the burning last words spoken before the end of the world as we know it. G’s verse extracts the silver lining: “time pass over / when winter brings the hope / joy shall follow”. It’s as though he’s saying, “see you there”.

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