Album reviews: Young Fathers | Kendrick Lamar

Edinburgh trio Young Fathers. Picture: Contributed

Edinburgh trio Young Fathers. Picture: Contributed

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THE Scotsman’s music critics review all the latest releases

ALBUM OF THE WEEK

Young Fathers: White Men are Black Men Too

Big Dada

****

There can be no more heartening Scottish success story in the last few years than that of Youth Fathers, the talented, imaginative Edinburgh trio whose potential is finally being realised after several years of delays and false starts, which were finally overcome when the group took matters into their own hands, self-releasing their Tape One EP.

Recognition has followed as swiftly as their release schedule – its follow-up Tape Two scooped the Scottish Album of the Year Award last June and a few months later they became the somewhat non-plussed recipients of the Mercury Music Prize for their full-length debut album Dead.

The creative roll continues with White Men Are Black Men Too, another audacious dispatch from their Leith HQ, pitched by the band as “our interpretation of what a pop album should be”. Young Fathers have always called themselves pop boys and instruct that this latest pithy missive should be “filed under rock and pop”.

Were cataloguers looking for a handy sub-division, how about placing this album in the I-don’t-know-what-it-is-but-I-like-it pile. White Men… is a consistently fascinating collage of sound, which moves the group further away from hip-hop and into experimental pop territory, a place where the studio as a playground never overshadows the tunes.

On opening track Still Running, singer Alloysious Massaquoi’s soulful anguish provides a focus over a whirring maelstrom of sound, some curt background chanting and melodic, resolute keyboards. Rain Or Shine layers up stabbing organ notes, an insidious melody and menacing murmured rap. Shame, an intrinsically catchy number in the vein of former single Get Up, is underscored by an insistent lo-fi pulse and freeform sonics to produce a sound reminiscent of TV on the Radio’s rhythmic mantras and 27 makes a nuanced whole out of a sweet reggae-tinged tune, twinkling chimes, a meaty beat, feral declamatory backing vocals and a lead vocal which wouldn’t sound out of place coming from a switched-on boy band.

Every ingredient is carefully measured so as not to overwhelm the whole. The ballads Sirens and Dare Me are pleasingly spare and entirely effective with just primitive pounding drums and beseeching vocals. Old Rock n Roll is a lean and taut funk exploration of the title, though it is almost a relief to emerge from its claustrophobic clutches and bathe in the plangent chords and open, gospel-influenced welcome of Nest.

The pace then revs up on Liberated, its disciplined but punky momentum providing a headlong rush, while the trio momentarily lighten up on the invigorating John Doe with its whistling, “laissez les bon temps rouler” hookline before they end up roughly where they came in, with the raw soul of Get Started.

There is so much expertly marshalled material here that Young Fathers, a veritable Scottish Beastie Boys, could take this wherever they want to. Buckle up, it’s going to be an exciting trip.

POP

Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly

Top Dawg/Aftermath

****

Like many hip-hop albums, Kendrick Lamar’s rush-released third is long and indulgent but, unlike many hip-hop albums, it is ambitious, layered, eloquent and never takes the path of least resistance. From the baked funk of Wesley’s Theory through to the Isley Brothers-sampling i, taking in the beat poetry of For Free?, the blissful jazz funk of Alright and woozy gangsta/conscious rap mix of How Much A Dollar Cost along the way, To Pimp a Butterfly is forged in the spirit of far-out funkateers Fela Kuti, Sun Ra and George Clinton (the latter appearing as a guest, alongside Ronald Isley) and already feels like a classic, or at the very least a gauntlet thrown down to Lamar’s peers.

Ron Sexsmith: Carousel One

Cooking Vinyl

****

There is a plaintive yet soothing quality in Ron Sexsmith’s voice which makes everything alright with the world. Those McCartneyesque chord changes and turns of melody don’t hurt either. Carousel One is yet another radiant showcase of his songwriting talents, featuring a number of his characteristic love songs and the exquisite ache of Nothing Feels the Same Anymore, as well as bolder, band-oriented roots rock numbers (Saint Bernard), some outright country balladry (Loving You) and the blithe and breezy Before the Light is Gone, about seizing the day. Don’t put off making this musical acquaintance. FIONA SHEPHERD

CLASSICAL

Scottish Ensemble & Francis Macdonald: Music for String Quartet, Piano & Celeste

TR7 Records

***

Composer, songwriter and Teenage Fanclub drummer Francis Macdonald turns his hand to a simplistic classical style in this initially mesmerising, largely listenable, but ultimately wearing disc of music for string quartet (members of the Scottish Ensemble), piano and celeste. It’s a bare-boned brand of minimalism that revolves around the most basic of chord patterns with almost ritualistic persistence, often to the point of emotional stasis. Macdonald displays a genuine sensitivity for the instruments, and, in one burst of musical energy, feeds the mischievous Triet for David Hockney with an infectious, subtly-scored wit. But in the end, the stated influences of Einaudi and Morricone begin to stultify the senses. Fine and beautiful, if mood music is your thing. KEN WALTON

FOLK

Donnie Munro: Sweet Surrender

Hypertension Music

****

Former Runrig frontman Donnie Munro, these days heavily involved with the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Gaelic college on Skye, recently embarked on a series of acoustic shows, accompanied by producer/engineer Eric Cloughley on guitar and backing vocals and young Shetland fiddler Maggie Adamson.

A live double album of great warmth, this sees Munro ranging through his back catalogue, from Runrig days and in his subsequent solo career. Accompaniments are straightforward, and Munro can lay on the vibrato a bit over-generously at times, but he consistently delivers straight from the heart in covers of classics such as Raglan Road and a fine October Song, along with his own compositions like the affectionate Irene and a warm tribute to his late brother-in-law, Glasgow Joe.

There are also, of course, such Runrig gems as The Cutter, The Wire and the beautiful Chi Min Geamhradh, and one of the most striking things to emerge from the album is just how powerfully Calum and Rory McDonald’s compositions have endured. JIM GILCHRIST

JAZZ

Calum Gourlay: Live at The Ridgeway

Two Rivers Records

****

Solo double bass recordings are still enough of a rarity to qualify as exotic, not to mention a considerable challenge for the player. The giant 
of the violin family is cast in a supporting role in most ensemble situations, but it is good to be reminded that in the right hands it can be just as fluent and compelling as any other solo instrument. The Scottish bassist Calum Gourlay, best known at this stage for his role in the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, is based in London, and recorded this excellent showcase for both musician and instrument in his living room in front of a small audience. His chosen material includes strong interpretations of familiar compositions by Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Haden, Duke Ellington and Joni Mitchell, as well as his own Hendrix and a sparkling nod to Cole Porter. KENNY MATHIESON

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