Expectation: Canadian jazz trio (now quartet) BBNG released their first project in 2011. Both it and its successor, BBNG 2, were composed of a mixture of original material and jazz interpretations of other artists’ songs, including Odd Future, Gucci Mane, James Blake, Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, and even the Legend of Zelda soundtack. The group was immediately embraced by the hip hop, and after their third album III (which was entirely original material), the group recorded a collaboration album with Ghostface Killah. The point that I’m trying to make here is that it doesn’t matter if you like jazz, these guys are worth listening to for fans of any genre.
- And That, Too – Showcasing their affinity for video game music, the group begins the album with a contemplative groove that would fit right at home in Undertale. However, the track constantly evolves around the central groove, and the now-officially-a-member Leland Whitty provides especially strong contributions on the saxophone.
- Speaking Gently – Just an awesome jam. The pacing is great, the groove is cool, it just works.
- Time Moves Slow – Possibly my favorite track on the album; the band delivers a laid back but captivating instrumental for Samuel T. Herring’s simple but catchy and evocative vocals.
- Confessions Pt. 2 – The band shows their chaotic streak, but this is measured chaos: even as Whitty’s saxophone spasms and contorts atop a stuttering piano riff, the group never seems to lose sight of where they’re going, and the entire song feels like a continuous progression.
- Lavender – One of the only tracks I felt got repetitive by the end, but still fairly solid. The groove is slow and menacing, bordering on melodramatic, but still pretty cool.
- Chompy’s Paradise – I’m not in love with the tone of the saxophone on the main riff, but everything else is great. A very atmospheric track.
- IV – The longest song on the project and the most similar to the semi-improvised sound of their early work. However, the track obeys a definitive structure with a huge peak and several show-stopper moments spread across the tracks back half.
- Hyssop of Love – Mick Jenkins has plenty of experience on jazzy instrumentals, so I expected him to deliver on his raps, but I was genuinely surprised at how nice the chorus sounded. BBNG craft an almost indescribable mixture of quick, precise playing and a smooth, relaxed atmosphere, and Mick’s singing sounds great.
- In Your Eyes – Apparently Leland Whitty plays violin, and it sounds gorgeous in conjunction with Charlotte Day Wilson’s vocals. Just another excellent track.
- Cashmere – One of my only gripes with this album would be that Matthew Tavares doesn’t get to flex his piano prowess in a lead role enough, but when he does he is a thrill to listen to. A fantastic closer to a great album.
Overall: IV occupies a new niche for BadBadNotGood: neither carrying the semi-improvised raw energy of their first two efforts, nor the overly planned and safe III. I imagine that rather than the band getting together and saying “Alright, let’s write a song” the majority of the tracks here began as improvisational jam sessions, then were shaped over time into the more rehearsed, planned forms we hear on the album. The addition of features is also a huge boon to the group, as including an occasional vocal performance brings an added layer of variety to the track list, successfully making the album engaging front-to-back. While the ridiculous peaks of BBNG2 have yet to return, and may never, I am okay with it if the band continues delivering these memorable melodies and expertly structured songs.