This Young Fathers article was written by Jessica Otterwell, a GIGsoup contributor
Try to place 2014 Mercury Music Prize winners, Young Fathers in one genre and you’ll struggle. It really is like furiously attempting to smash a square peg into a round hole – you’ll end up with a broken hammer.
Dead shapeshifts like the alien in Sci-Fi horror, The Thing. Attempt to pin it down and it will have slithered away, to take on some new sound, chameleon like as it soaks up elements of trip-hop, R&B or reggae. It must have been these flashes, sparks and crackles of innovation that attracted the Mercury Prize judges to shortlist it. In 2014, the short list was all about innovators, making new noise and breaking out of confining genres. Other nominees included performance poet, Kate Tempest with her first foray into music, mixing poetry and rap on Everybody Down, Anna Calvi’s One Breath and the bass lead ferocious, infectious rock of Royal Blood.
What made 2014 a standout year was that for the first time, there were almost no established acts on the list, bar Damon Albarn’s solo offering. It was a youthful and vibrant shortlist. If the message was that there’s a new pack of musicians on the horizon, coming to reinvent, then Young Father’s Dead, was at the forefront of that. Possessing such a scope that it envelopes influences from almost every other contender on the short list and twists them, splintering off to create its own version of what it means to be fresh and creative.
The list was varied and current but Young Fathers managed to pull something else from the heady mix. Dead is an album that shapes itself like playdough. Album opener, No Way, begins with harmonica and then explodes, wildly changing direction throughout, shards of sound travelling at speed through the air.
It’s a shame then, the second track, Low settles as it does for a mainstream, modern R&B chart vibe. It’s a low point on an otherwise imaginative album. There is, however, a smorgasbord of influences here. The cross genre mix is what makes it such an appealing album and nods to the Bristol sounds of Tricky and Massive Attack are not lost. The fact that these influences meld with the likes of Jurassic 5, gives the album the left of field flavour that would make the Mercury Music Prize panel sit up and take notice. There is an urban poetry here. Hangman is filled with echoing, threatening violence. There is no neat closer in I’ve Arrived, either, dark tension stalks Dead like a hunter in the forest.
2014 was a year when spoken word and rap was again in the public conscious; it appears the influence is echoed in one of 2015’s contenders, Ghost Poet, whether success will be repeated remains to be seen but Young Fathers have certainly set the bar high.