Before it was a style, pop was a noise. The sound of tendons straining past human limitations. The snap that occurs when ideas exceed the breaking point and annex uncharted territory. This is POP, in all caps, arguably the best way to wrap your mind around the music made by Edinburgh trio, Young Fathers.
The Anticon group craft pop songs disguised as psychedelic hip-hop disguised as an improvised explosive device. Three musicians comprise the bomb squad: Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and ‘G’ Hastings. They are Scottish of African descent, outsiders by constitution and temperament. The Fader compared their live-wire energy to the “blown out electrical stimulation of a riotous football rally.”
Following a pair of EP’s—2011’s TAPE ONE and 2013’s TAPE TWO— their first full length is called DEAD. Comparisons have been made to Shabazz Palaces, but that analogue does not quite properly fit. Young Fathers have no ancestors. They just slap you with concussive bass, rugged sonic layering, and jagged harmonies stacking up like scar tissue. The sounds are scuffed and fucked up—your ears with filled with funky poison.
“Layers of bass, sitting on top and below like oil on water on sand. Molotov cocktails of flammable bass in bottles of rhythm. And the words, all the words. They say what we want to say and when they don't there's a grunt or a snarl or a scream to do the job. The voices. We get the voices right. You understand us,” says Massaquoi. “We don't come from no place, can't pin it down. Can you? Spot a Scottish bit? Well spotted. It's a pop record that is hip-hop and rock, but it's not some kind of fucking fusion. Go on, name it. Bet you can't. It's alive. It's dead.”
So examine the crumbs of the corpses. DEAD is a blur of instantaneous jams and vocal ideas. Words stick out like lost limbs in quicksand. “AK-47 take my brethren/straight to heaven.” “Raised from the rubble.” Zombies coughing in coffins. Synthesizers soar like toxic birds. The percussion alternately cracks your skull and does miniature riffs to your ribcage. You can keep going for the duration of a nightmare. But don’t gloss over the immense power of songs like “Just Another Bullet,” “War,” and “Hangman.”
“It’s the colors coagulating to make brown. Young men going to war on impossibly blue sky days, a constant fact of life as long as we let it happen. Dread out there,” Massaquoi says. “The Congo is the first world war in the jungle. America with bullets, buzzing around bodies like bees. We recognize the faces in the shadows and call them out, name them, ask you to look them in the eye while we hold your hand. We will soundtrack love affairs and manage anger and bring mother Africa to the frozen west. We will. Or we’ve totally fucked it up.