In the space of just four years, Edinburgh trio Young Fathers have been rewarded extensively for the critical acclaim garnered by their collection of releases. Their CV includes a Mercury Prize win in 2014 for Dead, their debut studio album, and contributions to the soundtrack of 2017’s T2 Trainspotting, one of the most long-awaited and highly anticipated films of last year. Director Danny Boyle even went as far to label the original track Only God Knows as “the heartbeat of the film”. Their talent has also seen them tipped as potential headliners for Reading and Leeds festival in the future, according to organiser Melvin Benn. Inevitably, it is their Mercury Prize win, which saw them fend off the likes of Damon Albarn and Royal Blood, which continues to define them; a tag which can be understandably difficult to shake off. Yet Cocoa Sugar, their third studio album, is even more proof that it would be wrong for the Young Fathers to be singled out for one remarkable feat, four years ago.
Young Fathers introduced themselves to the world that night in October 2014; their riveting performance of Get Up would precede their odds-defying victory. As catchy as it was energetic, this effortlessly pulsating dance anthem would set the tone for future releases, while also making the soundtrack for T2 Trainspotting. Penultimate track Toy is the closest equivalent on Cocoa: yet another instance where the Edinburgh group’s beloved approach of combing a distinguishable bass riff with exceptionally fast drum beats, topped off with a chorus which has no chance of escaping your head anytime soon, all unite, to result in an anthem which feels so infectious and complete, while only just scraping over the three-minute-mark. Wow can be placed into a similar boat; a track propelled forward by a lightning-quick bass drone, in spite of the bizarre, simplistic lyrics (“Wow/What a time to be alive/Wow/Imma put myself first”).
That’s said, from the catharsis of opener See How to the disillusionment of Lord, it is apparent that there is far more to Young Fathers than lively numbers which you’ll find yourself bopping to without realising. The latter of these tracks is particularly emotive; piano arpeggios and a gospel choir open the heart wrenching effort, which includes lyrics as bleak as “It’s too late, too late/I won’t see you later/If you fade, I’ll fade/Fading together”. Other highlights include the organ-led Tremolo, as well as In My View, a number which focuses on the agonising reality of being unable to provide utmost satisfaction for a desired loved one. Its chorus provides us with the greatest hook of the album; arguably their catchiest yet.
Ultimately, the antithesis of lively harmonies and subdued lyrics across Cocoa Sugar epitomises what makes it so enjoyable. By exploring more personal and tender themes, coupled with the attainment of choruses as memorable as ever, Young Fathers can both solidify and expand on the immaculacy of their discography up to now. Through honesty and ecstasy, Cocoa Sugar works as a phenomenal addition to the band’s roster of critically acclaimed albums: the explosive Dead, and the politically-charged White Men Are Black Men Too. And while the Young Fathers may have already reached the pinnacle of domestic critical acclaim following their Mercury Prize win, there’s absolutely no reason why they cannot be continued to be recognised, given their evident ability to consistently deliver albums which leave critics in raptures.
Perhaps what makes the critical adoration of Young Fathers ever so admirable is the fact that it has all been achieved with integrity, on their own terms. As a result, the independent release of self-produced, lo-fi hip hop may not have sounded like an overnight success story at first, yet it has managed to showcase the Young Fathers as one of the most innovative, fascinating and important bands in the country right now.