Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: BadBadNotGood – III

Jazz has been one of the most influential genres of the last century, contributing to the foundations of…


Jazz has been one of the most influential genres of the last century, contributing to the foundations of soul, funk, RnB and hip hop. Artists throughout these respective genres – particularly in hip hop – have often openly praised and referenced their jazz influences. Tyler, The Creator, for example, wears his love for jazz on his sleeve in both his production and interviews. However, it’s not often that the situation gets flipped on its head. While jazz is able to take various forms and styles, few jazz musicians choose to allow hip hop to influence their sound to the maverick extent of BadBadNotGood.

After the well-timed release of a live-jam video of their medley track, entitled ‘Odd Future Sessions Part 1’, in April 2011, the hype around Odd Future meant that the video would inevitably be picked up by Tyler himself. He who shared the video to the kind of following that would give it with a sniff at viral status. Over the next few months, Alex Sowinski (drums and samples), Matt Tavares (keys) and Chester Hansen (bass) would adopt an Odd Future-esque punk attitude towards their music, abandoning any jazz purist sentiment to develop a style of hip hop infused jazz that was accessible to a younger crowd. This is particularly true of their live performances which, much like their hip hop counterparts in Odd Future, often climax in mosh pits – jazz mosh pits.

Their first album, BBNG, recorded in a three hour session in 2011, consisted mainly of hip hop instrumental covers and was a resounding success, receiving high critical acclaim. It beheld a light feel and was founded quite strongly on the jazz values of improvisation and jamming, backed by infectious hip hop beats and tone. Their second album, BBNG2, consisted of more original work and saw them step up their production game, bringing in a modern electronic element to their sound. The album was more layered and denser than the previous offering. Progression was also seen in their covers which were no longer of just hip hop influences, but included the likes of James Blake’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ and My Bloody Valentine’s ‘You Made Me Realise’. They also released two live albums which cover their extensive touring activity across North America and Europe. Lately, they have been in high demand in the production realm, producing tracks for Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown and RZA (for the The Man With the Iron Fists soundtrack), as well as being appointed the resident band at Coachella this year – where they backed Frank Ocean. 

While their first two albums were released independently, III was released through Innovative Leisure Records. It sees an all-original line-up of 10 tracks and is, without a doubt, their most lush and refined work yet. While it tends to lack the jam sensibility and raw energy of the first two albums, their efforts to tailor a more mature tone and hone their composition skills is commendable. However, what they gain in terms of composition they tend to lose in terms of grit. This is by no means due to complacency (because this album has been brewing for some time now) but rather due to a sense of accomplishment. They are fully aware of the position they hold as the crazy jazz kids with a punk attitude; but it’s clear that they aren’t prepared to let that define them.

The opening track, ‘Triangle’, is strong in its manic development from a casual bebop groove into a possessed piano solo via a badass high register bass loop. The second track, ‘Can’t Leave The Night’, was released in March as a single with a humourous and internet-aesthetic-friendly video. It’s clearly influenced by their heavier live performances and sees them attempting to refine that intensity into a ‘banger’, making use of a trap-like drop and sub-bass combination. The build to the drop and the drop itself are extremely well executed, but they fail to sustain the imaginative energy required for the track to remain interesting throughout. This is followed by ‘Confessions’ which features collaborating saxophonist, Leland Whitty, who was first featured on BBNG2. This song is a highlight, carried along by the sax with a beautiful and sultry melody, which, admittedly, could have been slightly more adventurous. Nevertheless, it is confident in its simplicity and is tastefully executed by Whitty.

‘Kaleidoscope’ also stands out with its departure from the more refined component of the album to a wild and hypnotic space reminiscent of their previous works. It opens with a moody chord progression ringing from a warm and fuzzy retro synth, but is soon assisted by a complex and driving bassline which builds into the kaleidoscope referred to in the title. This is broken by a flurry of sax lines which lead into a cathartic outro section accompanied by a triumphant, cyclical trumpet melody. ‘Eyes Closed’ features some intricate drum work from Sowinski and immense skill from Hansen on upright bass, but simply fails to take off. Some tremolo guitar is introduced for effect, but, while nice in tone, doesn’t quite add enough. ‘Hedron’ is up next and is abundant with mood. It opens with some beautifully modal chord work by Hansen on bass and develops into a contemplative loop of light keys and frenzied drums. The merit of the track lies in its non-attempt to travel too far off course and its acceptance of an ever-contemplative state.

‘Differently, Still’ is the track that could have been omitted off the LP. It lacks imagination and feels like a jam, but without the grit that would have made that negative aspect a positive. ‘Since You Asked Kindly’ is electronic-heavy and one of the album’s more experimental tracks. It succeeds in entertaining, but should have been more experimental. Another of the album’s singles, ‘CS60’, which starts with some great drum work and eerie synth/guitar interplay, introduces a build section before leading into another sub-bass trap-like drop. It holds a more subtle quality than that of ‘Can’t Leave The Night’, which provides greater intrigue and also makes the track a stand-out. The album closes with ‘Sustain’ which does a great job in its role. It features some innovative piano melodies from Tavares and a dive into a passage of pentatonic sax harmonies which could soundtrack a battle scene between two Native American tribes. The dust settles and a sense of calm is reclaimed before closing.

BadBadNotGood have created an album that speaks to their desire to progress and mature. Their image as punk-inspired-hip-hop-infused-jazz-heads may indeed result, however, in some disappointment at the disparity in energy-levels between the LP and their live shows. But that is exactly what the live performances are meant for. III reveals an exciting and progressive path for BadBadNotGood. The execution, at times, may not be at the level required to successfully express this refined direction. But, at this early stage in their careers, III speaks volumes for what is still to come.

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