Despite their name, BADBADNOTGOOD’s new album is anything but bad, bad or not good. The group from Toronto has been making a name for themselves ever since their 2001 debut album BBNG . While normally depicted as a jazz group, BADBADNOTGOOD’s continual experimentation through blending and borrowing elements from other genres to produce thick, melodic, and oft atmospheric pieces places them beyond the land of “just another jazz group.”
My personal awareness of BADBADNOTGOOD really started with their collaborative project Sour Soul, released in 2015 with Ghostface Killah. It was a rare offering of Ghostface’s supreme lyricism with the eccentric and smooth instrumentals of BADBADNOTGOOD. It inspired me to dig into BADBADNOTGOOD’s catalogue of projects, leading me to their earlier LPs: BBNG, BBNG2, and III.
What I found were three projects dedicated to a dark, heavy and, often moody and melodic jazz sound. To roughly put it, the band was well encapsulated by and, to a degree, a reflection of their cover art. Like their cover art, tracks were sonically black and white with moments of sound bleakly contrasting with moments of silence. They created pieces which invoked an experience which felt hollow and dreadful, but yet substantial and measured. It always seemed like the music was knocking on the door of insanity, inciting a controlled fever dream. However, these three earlier projects, in addition to Sour Soul, are projects which, at most, express somber attitudes and, for most of their duration, express darker emotions, being relatively safe and limited in their choice of conveyed moods and emotions. Looking back, I would say that the projects were heavy with something. They seem burdened and angsty.
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By contrast, IV’s cover is a photograph of four young men surrounded by what appears to be a light neon blue border. This exudes more jovial and upbeat vibes albeit maintaining a direct and bleak contrast as exemplified through tracks such as ‘Time Moves Slow’, featuring a crooning Sam Herring, ‘Confessions Pt. II’, ‘Chompy’s Paradise’, ‘IV’, ‘In Your Eyes’ and ‘Cashmere’. Plus, they end up anchoring and orienting the experience that this LP delivers.
We also get a glimpse of the incredible range and ability of BADBADNOTGOOD to incorporate vastly different artists and their representative genres. Notably, this talent is best exhibited on the tracks ‘Time Moves Slow’, again with a slow R&B-esque Sam Herring, ‘Confessions Pt. II’, which features the tremendous solo abilities of saxophonist Colin Stetson, ‘Lavender’, featuring the incorporation of Kaytranada’s production capabilities and style, and ‘Hyssop of Love’, featuring bars and wordplay from Mick Jenkins. One of the greatest things about IV is that BADBADNOTGOOD seems to easily transition between the tracks, holding a cohesive narrative and incorporating different genres, without sacrificing the substance brought forth by each artist.
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New multi instrumentalist, Leland Whitty, also adds further range to their already ludicrous abilities and reach. On tracks like ‘Speaking Gently’, we have the classic jazz stylings of BADBADNOTGOOD from “BBNG2” or “III” but we also now have a progression into a saxophone solo, turning what was, and would once have been, a much more linear experience, into the varied and adventurous piece that it is now.
All in all, IV shows visible growth in the group’s ability to make great music without detaching from their roots or being removed from their ability to incorporate multiple genres and then bending these sounds and features to serve their purposes and narratives.
Pick it up when it drops on July 8th. And check out older BADBADNOTGOOD content, including remixes and collaborations, at their Soundcloud here. I highly recommend Sour Soul for the hip-hop heads out there.