BBNG – “IV” Review

Toronto jazz outfit, BADBADNOTGOOD explore what it means to be contemporary in latest IV album.

I first became familiar with Toronto contemporary jazz outfit, BADBADNOTGOOD via YouTube rubbing elbows with Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt and doing jazzy renditions of Odd Future joints. The hazy, seemingly twisty brand of jazz played well with OFGWKTA’s own dark, syrupy production and content.

The BBNG band members wore pig masks, jammed in a basement illuminated by a single light bulb. Remove them from their respective instruments and you could’ve pegged them for the prototypical skater kids, but with instruments attached, they were virtuosos at their craft.

The band went on to release a number of projects: BBNG, BBNG2, III and the Ghostface-assisted Sour Soul. The unit solidified their place as jazz’s youthful energy, plugged in the way hip-hop sampled jazz, but vice versa.

In a way, their penchant for translating hip-hop and funk named them modern jazz’s ghostly villains. But in world where ambient, heavy, and sometimes cathartic sounds have made their way to pop music’s frontlines, as avant garde BBNG was, there were ears searching for them.

Their latest record, IV, continues to push the envelope in sounds and experimentation. This time around, they include vocalists and guest features on their records, such as “Time Moves Slow” with Sam Herring, “Hyssop of Love” with Mick Jenkins and “Lavendar” with Kaytranada.

The three songs couldn’t more different than each other. Sam Herring’s croaky voice melds wonderfully in the R&B groove laid out, an effect reminiscent of Disclosure’s “Hold On” with Gregory Porter. The instrumentals could easily stand alone, but the earthy, classic render of both singers breathe a heartfelt delivery that could never be replicated. The Charlotte Day Wilson-assisted “In Your Eyes” offers this same smokiness, and though her voice seems to be shrouded in the backdrop, it works: While she croons amid the chords, the strings sing, adding a little sheen to the velvety track.

Mick Jenkin’s guest feature tickles the band’s stab at trippy hip-hop. The drums are psychedelic, the riffs glittery and Mick is talking about love – the only thing missing from this scenery is a blunt.

Probably the most intriguing – and maybe a little disconnected from the rest of the record – is “Lavendar”, featuring Kaytranada. The Montreal beatsmith is clear: The rubber band bass line rumbles low and is a little less bouncy than what his fans are used to, but it’s the segue to BBNG’s to an interlude of rapid snares and playful Rhodes.

The band was originally a trio, but they upgraded saxophonist Leland Whitty to full-time fourth member after making several guest spots on previous records, such as III‘s “Confessions” and BBNG2‘s “Earl” and “UWM”. For this album’s “Confessions Pt. II”, Whitty is joined by
Arcade Fire collaborator Colin Stetson to add a layer of silk on the track, weaving through a deep, funky bass line driving the song foward.

In an interesting way, “IV” is essentially a summer record. From the album cover to the overall feel and vibe throughout, it’s like the BBNG boys finally emerged from the basement to realize that some sunshine isn’t so bad after all. It’s a deep-toned melancholy that’s fully capable of soundtracking dusty summer days that eventually lead back into the basement, but not without adding a few touches of brightness and a few extra friends in for a session.

BBNG’s “IV” takes an exploratory trek through what exactly does it mean to be labeled as contemporary jazz. As much as I hate throwing around the term “genre-bending”, that’s ultimately what it is. For the longest time, BBNG had their feet planted in mystery. They shielded their faces, their art consisted mostly of black and grey images, silhouettes and smoke. It clear that masterful minds were behind the music; their hands were equally precise. What “IV” does is reinforce that mastery and thoughtfulness, and engrain an assertiveness that their music isn’t all just smoke and mirrors. It’s a purposeful record, one that is exploratory, intriguing and emotive, all at the same time.

BADBADNOTGOOD’s IV is out today and can heard in full on Apple Music.

Nina Tabios

Nina Smoove aka Champagne Ninang. Certified hooligan. $F Bay Area born and bred.

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