Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Young Fathers - White Men are Black Men Too (2015)

As I may have mentioned on previous occasions, I'm old and fat and I don't understand modern music, modern music being more or less everything that's happened since about 1992 for the sake of argument. That was the year when it stopped making sense, roughly speaking - when the sort of things I disliked began to outnumber the good stuff, and the term independent took on a meaning other than that which exists outside of the mainstream - fey, jangly shite which wanted to be 1967 when it grew up, which - by the way - it had no intention of doing. I didn't stop listening, but my tastes had been forcibly marginalised by everyone deciding they had wanted to be glittery pop stars all along.

There has been the odd thing to catch my attention since then, but generally I've been pursuing my own avenues of inquiry; and in my absence, the means of production have changed, in turn affecting the basic function of music as a commodity, leading to post-music which has more in common with ringtones or memes than that stuff I once purchased as circles of black plastic back in the old days when everything was better than it is now. It's not that I have a problem with change so much as that change of style shouldn't be mistaken for change of basic function, so thinking I might get something from Lady Gaga comparable to that which I once got from a UK Subs album is like going to McDonalds and expecting them to fix your car. Even worse is when everyone gets all misty-eyed and tries to be my mate by digging out the old Joy Division or Wire records and having a go, hence all those heritage industry Editors types, musical analogies to Peter Kay asking who remembers Curly Wurly.

So it's really nice to be surprised every once in a while, which probably hasn't happened since I heard Austerity Dogs, although the Sleaford Mods, for all their brilliance, may as well be a couple of old codgers I met whilst working at Parcel Force. Young Fathers conversely derive from the generation which should be making music, and which should be scaring the life out of old farts such as myself. I had assumed the present state of the art to be seventeen-year olds channelling the Byrds at some shitty SXSW industry showcase, or trembling emo wank through two minutes of reverb decay on the Catfish soundtrack, but happily there is also this - whatever it is.

The music could quite easily be waveforms copied and pasted to and from different parts of the screen; and a live video shows four blokes on stage, one with an upright drum kit, one with a tiny keyboard gaffa-taped to some sort of fashionably archaic suitcase synth, and that's the instrumentation; so I don't really know quite who does what or how it results in what can be heard on White Men are Black Men Too, but maybe it doesn't matter because the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.

This was an attempt to make a perfect pop album - so it says on the internet - so I've no idea what they were doing before or how it compares, but perfect pop is justified regardless of initial impressions of something bolted together in a carpenter's workshop. It's musical, but there's a lot of drone, and a lot which sounds like it might not have originated with a musical source, and the whole sounds dirty like those old Motown records from the sixties. Stand it next to Peter Hope's Exploding Mind and you probably have a completely new genre, industrial gospel or something - invoked mainly in the hope that anyone reading this will be far too embarrassed to ever use such a term.

Yes gospel, leaning on the bluesier end of the scale with a distinctly African feel - two of the group having roots in Nigeria and Ghana to some degree or other - gospel in its celebratory rather than specifically God-bothering aspect. They're probably not the greatest vocalists in the world, but they're not bad and they have real heart, far more so than the overproduced histrionic vocalising that has been passed off as soul music for these last couple of decades; and yet somehow the record does all of this whilst sounding like Suicide in places, maybe even Joy Division at a stretch - according to some YouTube bloke, although I'm not too sure about that one myself. It's dark and introspective yet uplifting at the same time, just the sort of thing you need after a day of life punching you in the face. This one is astonishing - the best new album I've heard in a long, long time.

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