It’s a testament to the unique talent of BADBADNOTGOOD that its sound is not duplicated more.
Casual fans may know Toronto’s BADBADNOTGOOD from collaborations with rappers like Tyler the Creator, Ghostface Killah and Earl Sweatshirt. But when left to its own devices, as on its latest album IV, the band typically skews towards a musty, smoky improvisational jazz. Even when you’ve had your fill of virtuosic saxophone solos, there are several terrific vocal collaborations that prove that, just as the band shines in the role of featured player, it is just as impressive in a leading role.
Bursting onto the scene while its members were all under 21, much has been made of the band’s youth. Now the group has a mature chemistry, and understand when it’s time to let a single member shine. A frenzied solo doesn’t lead to all four members ramping up their intensity simultaneously, and this creates a pleasing juxtaposition between a zen backing track and exuberant solos.
The heartbreakingly powerful “Time Moves Slow” reunites Future Islands singer Samuel T. Herring with BBNG after the gorgeous 2014 rework of “Seasons (Waiting on You).” On this slow and somber track, a slithery bass line provides a perfect backdrop for Herring to sift through his memories of an old relationship past and take stock of his current life: “Running away is easy/ It’s the living that’s hard/ And loving you was easy/ It was you leaving that scarred,” Herring sighs. BBNG has proven perfectly capable of excellent instrumental music, but if they the group ever feels the need to snag a full-time front man, Herring would turn them into the musical equivalent of the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.
The group has always had a knack for picking collaborators, as on its 2015 album Sour Soul with Ghostface, and the assembled guests on its new album all contribute meaningfully to the project’s success. Charlotte Day Wilson is a wonderful fit for the steamy “In Your Eyes,” while Kaytranada injects some futuristic bounce on “Lavender,” and Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins kicks some vintage basement bars on “Hyssop of Love.”
But even with these moments, much of the best work on IV comes when the BBNG boys simply feed off each other’s energy. The album’s title cut is a shapeshifting, seven-minute odyssey featuring Whiplash-level drumming from Alexander Sowinski. Closer “Cashmere” swells elegantly and serves as a fitting punctuation mark on a record that is brighter than some of the band’s prior projects.
In an era where truly original music is so often copied ad nauseum the moment it finds an audience, it’s a testament to the unique talent of BADBADNOTGOOD that its sound is not duplicated more. IV provides diehard fans with plenty to love, and is an easy entry point for those not yet familiar with their favorite rapper’s favorite band.