Badbadnotgood's so good IV album
Author: Nicholas Thompson Date Posted:27 October 2018
The process of being discovered for any band is difficult. Some get a leg up through signing to a large label early in their career, others toil away performing to handfuls of people nightly. BADBADNOTGOOD recorded modern jazz renditions of songs from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
It’s probably a bit cheeky to say their success stems solely from that but it is still a very important moment for them. It can’t be understated how difficult it is to convince someone who isn’t deep into music to listen to classic jazz albums let alone new artists in the field and the “they covered songs from arguably the greatest video game ever made” is a compelling argument to do that.
Formed in 2010 the trio (Chester Hansen on bass, Alexander Sowinski on drums and Matthew Tavares on keys) built their sound on rediscovering the jazz origins within hip hop and challenging the foundations that jazz was unwilling to move from. Their first release BBNG contained half original compositions and half covers of hip hop tracks. I may have zeroed in on their success stemming from the Zelda cover on the album but with the release of BBNG2 the covers of (at that stage) current hits was likely the true moment. BBNG2 saw the band tackle covers of Odd Future member’s solo work, James Blake’s vibrative single ‘Limit to Your Love’ and Kanye’s ‘All of the Lights’. The other great draw for BADBADNOTGOOD, was that BBNG2 was completely created by people under the age of 21. To work within a genre like jazz and only approach youth helped galvanise their ideas and unique perspective. By the time they release their wholly original III in 2014 the band had created beats for Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt and were part of a changing sound in hip hop, bringing jazz back into vogue.
In 2016 they added saxophonist Leland Whitty and recorded their latest full length release IV. IV is a change for BADBADNOTGOOD. The most obverse on first glance is the move away from back and white artwork to a full colour shot. Even further, the previous images had focused on the bands craft or ideology where this cover art sees the band in front of a sandstone wall, wearing only baby blue towels sporting cheesy grins.
The first big change to the sound with IV is it is BADBADNOTGOOD’s solo album to feature vocals. The performances range from hip hop to soulful jazz styled vocals and accentuate BADBADNOTGOOD’s ability to write strong supportive songs. This style punctuated their previous work as early tracks lent themselves to accompaniment. This also helps split some of the instrumental which don’t feel as structured as they had in the past. With that said, IV does continue the use of instruments that sound like beats waiting for a vocalist to perform over which was very common on III.
Opening with “And That, Too.” an escalating track featuring layered piano before breaking into an improvised saxophone solo. Both this track and the second track “Speaking Gently” feel like they ripe for a verse to be thrown over. The way they move between a verse, chorus structure would have been agreeable to someone like Tyler the Creator or MF Doom rapping up over them. You can almost hear the lines move over the top of the instrumental.
On “Time Moves Slow” we have probably the strongest song on the album, a laboured bass and drum beat featuring the vocal work of Future Island’s Samuel T. Herring. His unique voice sits perfectly over the track accompanied above the rhythm by Leland’s guitar work. The track feels like a completed piece. Herring doesn’t oversell the performance and the instrumentation also works within a smaller scale which I think allows the track to blend so well.
Not to get too chronological but track 4 is also a standout featuring saxophonist Colin Stetson. “Confessions Pt II” begins with a barrelling bass saxophone and the whole piece is controlled by Stetson on that bass sax as well as tenor sax. To this point I think this may be the strongest work from BADBADNOTGOOD as an instrumental piece. The saxophones duel and build the tension routinely until it turns into such a smooth ending.
A theme for the album is the inclusion of other instrumentalists enhances the work of BADBADNOTGOOD. Like Stetson shifted their saxophone work, Kaytranada morphed the way the band works with synthesizers on “Lavender”. Snoop Dogg later added lyrics to the beat yet this is an instance where I felt the track stood on its own as an instrumental piece. It helps to have a dominant lead instrument and I am not sure they were able to capture that until now.
The seven minute title track “IV” is reminiscent of a more tradition jazz sound. It isn’t a hard sound or formulaic in structure and feels like an improvisation. They let loose on the track and as much as jazz can be controlled this is an example of a jazz song being allowed to go where it wants and end when it seems to fit.
Finishing with the track “Cashmere”, the piece works within the world of a mellow jazz ballad and then is released into floating string synths and drum fills. The piano and drum work are at their best to finish off the album. It sounds like an optimistic and warm closer to an album BADBADNOTGOOD were glad to be making. There is such strong positivity here, from the cover to the work within.
As of now it has been over two years since IV was released. BADBADNOTGOOD have been so interesting to follow. Their releases have matured and change substantially as they have aged and hearing that maturation doesn’t happen often now in specialised genres like jazz. Their sound is also a moment in hip hop that may have passed. Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” was the recapturing of jazz in hip hop and it seems like the trend has moved away from that. The cynic in me lays this at the feet of producing a beat being easier than performing one. That is not to say producing a beat is easy, more the labour in playing and refining it being physically intensive and time consuming. I’m sure it won’t die off and will be back but I am worried it didn’t stick around for as long as I hoped.