Album Review – ‘IV’ by BADBADNOTGOOD

I’ve talked in the past about how jazz as a genre constantly moves in cycles (to use Q-Tip’s language), and BADBADNOTGOOD are perhaps one of the figureheads of the most recent revival – earlier albums featured reformulated covers of hip-hop classics such as Slum Village’s ‘Fall in Love’, as well as fresher reimaginings coming in the form of, for example, Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘Earl’. They even dabbled in some shoe-gaze in covering My Bloody ValentineSuch albums also displayed a sort of humour and style that represented the fresh-faced persona of a trio who were barely entering adulthood.

IV however ditches the pig masks, cereal-eating, lion mascot dancing, Lil B shoutouts, and even the monochrome artwork used on past albums. It’s a maturation, a foot in the same river as Kamasi Washington (and ergo Kendrick Lamar), best represented by the introduction of Leland Whittey as a full-time member of the band – returning after a fantastic feature on III‘s ‘Confessions’, Whittey helps open the album with a solo on the electronica-infused ‘And That Too’, then taking centre-stage on the title-track which sounds as if it could have been pulled directly from To Pimp a Butterfly. His highlight is the high-energy battle with Arcade Fire contributor Colin Stetson, trading frantic and raspy saxophone lines back and forth in ‘Confessions II’:

The album also features a heavier amount of collaboration – Colin Stetson already mentioned, Kayranada lends his own sub-genre melting-pot style to ‘Lavender’ by providing buzzing synthesiers to the psychedelic and groove heavy journey, a sound reminiscent of Karreim Riggins‘ debut effort. Walking further down this road, Mick Jenkins perhaps shows BADBADNOTGOOD’s potential in the hip-hop genre when they’re not tied down to Ghostface Killah‘s nostalgia on previous album Sour Soul this is best seen in Alexander Sowinski’s drumming which is in this track is one-hundred times preferred to a drum machine. Again, following in similar veins as Washington and indeed Terrace Martin and Robert GlasperCharlotte Day Wilson‘s vocals provide a smooth-jazz atmosphere on ‘In Your Eyes’.

Perhaps the best feature is of Future Islands’ frontman Samuel Herring on ‘Time Moves Slow’, in essence a solemn follow up to the band’s reinterpretation of ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’. Chester Hansen’s bass provides the engine for the track, whilst Sowinski once again spices up what could have been a very simple 16-beat drum loop, and adding Matthew Tavares’ organ-synth, it provides perfect backing for the wavering and crumbling vocals of Herring as he croons “running away is easy // it’s the leaving that’s hard”.

Amongst all of this however, it should be noted that it doesn’t feel like there’s a massive progression in sound – at the close of the BADBADNOTGOOD’s debut album, Sowinski is asked what he thinks of John Coltrane‘s widely-regarded seminal jazz album Giant Steps – he answers:

 “Fuck that shit, everyone’s played it, it’s 50 years old, it sounds like crap, write a new song, and stop playing that God damn song. I don’t care if you can fucking modulate it and change shit up, you can play it in seven, you can play it in nine: it’s fucking boring. That’s what I think about Giant Steps”.

There’s no such moment, no such feeling with this album – the band has grown up, but perhaps too much. If the title-track did not have Whittey’s saxophone on it it would have fitted in very neatly on previous albums with Tavares’ electric piano making light work of (rather impressive, it should be said) solos, and the strings featured in ‘In Your Eyes’ felt very similar to those employed on III. They have explored new ground in terms of their own personal musical journeys, but on the grand stage of the genre and music as a whole, this album appears to hold less weight. Closing track ‘Cashmere’ perhaps encapsulates these sentiments well – the quartet are obviously talented, there’s no doubting that, and Leland Whittey’s addition is a very welcome change, but it doesn’t feel like an exciting and fresh take on the genre. Yes, that’s a lot to expect from a band, but it’s the reputation that BADBADNOTGOOD have built for themselves, and so we should not be hasty to be disappointed with this effort.


This article was written by Mo Hafeez.


Album Review – ‘Sour Soul’ by BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah

BADBADNOTGOOD have made leaps and bounds since coming together in 2010. The Toronto jazz trio first gained popularity after their ‘Odd Future Session’ videos, which eventually caught the attention of artists like Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean. Three albums in before this latest release, they’ve aptly shown their flair for reinterpreting jazz, their ability to build up tracks before crashing down in waves of synths, basses and eclectic drums is one rarely seen or felt in the genre.

However, if you’re looking for that kind of stuff, Sour Soul won’t please you. That’s my main criticism, if you could even call it that, since it’s clear that’s not what they’re going for with this album. They’re meant to be providing a nostalgic backbone for Ghostface Killah (of Wu-Tang fame) and his aggressive deliveries, they’re meant to be in the background whilst seasoned veteran Ghostface Killah steals the show, but it simply isn’t the case. BADBADNOTGOOD shines extremely bright on this album, probably even brighter than Ghostface himself, who, although is impressive, is not up to form when compared to the featured rappers on the album.

It’s almost as if Ghostface doesn’t fully go for it until he’s got another MC to challenge him on the track – Danny Brown continues his hot streak on ‘Six Degrees’, his comic rapping style providing a strange juxtaposition that works well, behind a guitar led riff which has been layered with reverb and subtle drum changes adding changes of pace throughout the song. MF Doom steals the show on ‘Ray Gun’, a lyrical standoff between two talented rappers as BADBADNOTGOOD play a jazz-funk infused lounge backing track behind it all – the organ could have been a grating addition, but it’s placed well within the production itself by producer Frank Dukes, resulting in a backing track that works well in giving that superhero show vibe that the pair use in their lyrics often.

Whilst featuring musicians do a great job (Thomas Brenneck’s slide guitar addition to ‘Gunshowers’ stuck out to me in particular), the instrumentals, albeit strangely placed within the album, show what BADBADNOTGOOD can do (though not to the extent we hear on their previous album) – brass heavy ‘Experience’ closes out the album smoothly, the strings coming to the fore towards the end, and the percussion is tight yet dynamic enough to show you that the band has flair.

Some may be disappointed with this album, perhaps simply due to extremely high expectations, but BADBADNOTGOOD have managed to blur the lines between genres convincingly once again whilst still maintaining their signature sound, the punchy drums the driving force throughout the album. This album may have suffered had it not been for the slew of featured rappers, but Ghostface  Killah gives just enough to makes us want more, the narrative and pop-culture references still a plenty.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez