After Kayus Bankole, Graham Hastings, and Alloysious Massaquoi won the Mercury Prize for Dead, they affirmed and reaffirmed that their debut album as Young Fathers was simply a start. A strong follow-up was released only six months after they accepted the award. Between the release dates of their second and third albums, amid other creative pursuits, the trio made urgent contributions to Massive Attack's Ritual Spirit and the soundtrack of T2 Trainspotting. Novelist Irvine Welsh fell so hard for his fellow Edinburgh natives that five songs off their first two albums -- in addition to the made-to-order "God Only Knows" -- were licensed for use in T2. Young Fathers' fascinating evolution continues with third full-length Cocoa Sugar. Tiring of being cast as eccentrics, they set out to make comparatively straightforward material, only to end up with their least classifiable, most unique work yet. "Lord," the prelude to the album, indicated the perhaps unintended results with balefully buzzing avant-gospel. Its vague cluster of pained and plainly spoken lyrics are capped with a seemingly disconnected statement -- "While the government wants to control, her culture will set you free" -- that jumps off the page but is delivered during the fade-out like an afterthought. Other instances of bloody-mindedness can be heard in the near concealment of hooks that require close listening to be heard. They're often deliberately distanced from the battery of contrasting vocal lines, laser FX, and rhythms that churn, batter, and rattle, whether evoking Krautrock bands or African tribes. One aspect that does shoot clear through is the high level of ferocity on display throughout a latter-half stretch that concerns immigration and desperate survivalism. It culminates in "Holy Ghost," which jitters and battle-peacocks like Kendrick Lamar's "King Kunta," a rare obvious point of reference. In a way, the crammed, almost impenetrable layers of sound recall specific phases of Simple Minds (Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call), Associates (Sulk), and maybe even Cocteau Twins (the darker parts of Head Over Heels). Like those Scottish post-punk recordings, Cocoa Sugar mystifies before it gratifies, but it reflects a modern global chaos as much as it does a personal one.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman