If you don’t like a bit of sexy saxophone you probably won’t like BADBADNOTGOOD’s latest release, IV. Or any of their music, to be honest. The Canadian act sit at an interesting division in the road between being obscure and niche and the slightly off-centre and cool mainstream. Between the four of them, Matthew Tavares, Alexander Sowinski, Chester Hansen, and Leland Whitty have drums, saxophone, viola, violin, guitar, bass, and upright bass sorted, on top of samples. But no vocalist. The majority of their music is instrumental, experimental, and funky. Immediately then, it could be assumed that they’re well and truly tucked into the niche corner. But despite there not being a permanent vocalist in their roster, they collaborate with enough singers and rappers to keep their most streamed tracks as those with vocals on the checklist.
They started making music together by covering hip hop tracks, and in more recent years have collaborated with the likes of Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. Their track Hedron was included in Bonobo’s Late Night Tales compilation. Oh, and their last album, Sour Soul? A collaboration with Ghostface Killah. So whilst they might not quite be making the View From The Top column every week, they’ve got friends in high places, and it shows.
IV is 11 tracks of electronic jazz. Let’s just get that out of the way. If you don’t like jazz you’re definitely in the wrong place. But it’s great. They’re all talented musicians, and the production brings the best out of every note and pause. A lot of what is going on musically is playing with boundaries – especially Whitty’s saxophone – but it’s not the kind of experimental jazz you’d hear at weird hours on Radio 4. Besides, they’re incredibly clever, and have made it very marketable: as well as plenty of layered instrumental tracks there are collaborations with vocalists. Not so many that it you forget who you’re listening to, but enough to give a little variation.
The best way to describe BADBADNOTGOOD is like water. You know there’s that thing people say sometimes about water moving and being flexible but ultimately being strong enough to erode rock? Well, BADBADNOTGOOD are incredibly malleable in that way. In places the production reminds me of the French outfit C2C, but then at other points they sound far more soulful and psychedelic, much more like Hiatus Kaiyote. But beyond these touches, there are songs that clearly draw more from old school swing, and others that are sample heavy and experimental. It’s a mixed bag, but if you’ve got an open mind about music you’ll enjoy it.
You don’t need to study Art History and wear turtlenecks to appreciate this, but it probably helps.