Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar

Cocoa Sugar is a potent mix of sugary boy band choruses, tongue-twister rap and surreal imagery making for the Leith trio's best album yet

Album Review by Katie Hawthorne | 05 Mar 2018
Album title: Cocoa Sugar
Artist: Young Fathers
Label: Ninja Tune
Release date: 9 Mar

As always, it’s a mystery how Young Fathers pull it off. Cocoa Sugar slaps sugary boy band choruses against tongue-twister rap, via surreal imagery borrowed from the Bible and a sprinkling of the kind of idioms your nan might use. It’s a potent mix, and their best album yet.

Opening track See How begins angelically. 'Someday, I’ll be a star that’s shining bright in the sky,' they sing, before a creaking, industrial synth splits the song apart. The Leith trio have never been shy to admit ambition, and on their third studio album Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham 'G' Hastings reach for new heights without compromising on a single thing. Cocoa Sugar is sharp and sweet; twelve tracks built from the intentional contradictions which characterise the band’s sound.

By Young Fathers' standards, this album is stripped-back. It’s a slightly softer listen than their fizzing, fiery White Men are Black Men Too (2015) and more succinct than the abrasive chaos which made up most of 2014’s Mercury prize-winning Dead. That said, there’s still a lot happening. Cocoa Sugar finds a kind of tenderness in making connections, then breaking them down. Contrasting voices – some silly, some serious, mostly a combination of the two – mean that the album resists any straightforward mission statement, and instead makes for a kind of conversation.

'Ever seen a rainbow?' rubs against 'I’ll cross the border in the morning' on Holy Ghost. Picking You sounds like a drill track recorded by a marching band, as Massaquoi sings mournfully about human connections via money, the church and a tendency toward Scorpios. On Wow, a sardonic, pummelling song, Bankole investigates the power of ego against a backdrop of ‘shooby-doo’ barber-shop vocals. The album’s intensity peaks on Wire, as screwed disco chords incite a riot: 'Bring your body to the boil.'

For all the abrupt scene changes, Cocoa Sugar feels a self-contained universe. It gets straight to the point: human experience is messy. Young Fathers will always be restless and surprising, but for the moment it sounds like they’re right where they should be. As Bankole sings on Turn, 'I didn’t work this damn hard to stay where I belong.'

Listen to: Holy Ghost, Tremolo, In My View