You could be forgiven for not knowing much at all about Edinburgh three piece Young Fathers, but that could likely change very soon; a cursory Google or Youtube search will reveal a wealth of output surprising for such a relatively young group. They’ve clearly been putting the work in, and it seems to be paying off; their new EP/mixtape/whatever Tape Two has been popping up and generating a healthy buzz all over the place, and they are among the newest signees to left-field hip-hop figurehead label Anticon.
Their new home is definitely a fitting one; most who try and tackle Young Fathers’ music end up describing it as some kind of experimental rap, which is understandable. They create off-kilter, energised music consistently inflected with hip-hop signifiers. But they don’t have anything much in common with, say, Yoni Wolf’s old Anticon outfit cLOUDDEAD; when Young Fathers really get down to tackling real, raw rap music, they are far less wilfully obtuse and come with far more thump and groove than that crew ever did.
In some ways, they have far more in common with groups like Wolf’s later outfit, Why?. They might have a lot more hip-hop in their sonic mix but, similarly to those guys, Young Fathers have created a sound that sits at a point somewhere between rap music and indie; tune in at one point in the tape and it could be a modern, synth led alternative group, at another a straight up experimental hip-hop one.
This isn’t to say that Young Fathers and Why? sound anything alike, however; they simply have a similar stylistic juxtaposition at the core of their sound. Where the overriding tone of Why?’s output was one of lovelorn, narcissistic neuroses, Young Fathers’ is more visceral, aggressive and paranoid. While Why?’s music was generally pretty, fluffy and organic, Young Fathers’ is much shakier and narcotic; the hip-hop moments are bassy and propulsive, while the parts that crib indie sounds are built around the chants, tribal percussion and experiments with sound that characterise groups like TV on the Radio and Yeasayer.
Plus, when they get down to it, Young Fathers simply go harder than musically omnivorous, experimental hip-hop groups tend to go. “ComeToLife” is a perfect example, where rattling beats and whining synth lines combine with a refrain of “day by day we fuck it up”, while on “QueenIsDead” heavy drums clatter and air-raid siren synths pull downwards underneath a dark, dystopian sounding narrative. This is the group at its most identifiably hip-hop but also at its most cerebral and darkest, and it’s pretty exciting.
Even better though is when both sides of the group come together and gel perfectly, as on the singles “MrMartyr” and “iHeard”. The latter in particular, which opens Tape Two, is excellent and probably one of the most interesting singles of 2013’s first half. For most of its duration, it’s all just great hooks in group vocals and falsetto atop an addictive and simple chord progression. But in amongst it is a simple, almost spoken word verse in which the numbed and dead eyed descriptions of such banal things as “a pint and a smoke” and “the dishes (…) still in the sink” are imbued with a real pathos. If Young Fathers can maintain this inventive sonic blend alongside such real feeling, they could really be on to something. In fact, judging from the straight quality of Tape Two, it seems like they already are.