Released - October 2021
Label - XL Recordings
Toronto's BADBADNOTGOOD alongside Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai present ‘Talk Memory’. With a vision more concrete and resilient, ‘Talk Memory’ has clearly drawn more from the group’s jazz inspirations than hip hop. The result is undeniably their best work yet, one that feels characteristic of the band's influence-indebted sound.
The distinction between the release and its predecessor is considerable yet still familiar. As an outfit that has been active for just over a decade, they began as a college jazz fusion group taking cues from the hip hop and neo-soul scenes that were soon to take over the mainstream of the mid-2010s. This gave them an easy-in to produce for similarly retro-minded artists like Kali Uchis, Kendrick Lamar, and even people as far removed as Earl Sweatshirt. ‘Talk Memory’ however is more in line with the works of progressive atmosphere-focused jazz heavyweights like The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis than any of the contemporary rappers and R&B dreamers they first made a name working with.
As a complete work ‘Talk Memory’ is a more memorable and electric affair than their past long-form efforts, which partially focused on texturing hip hop into velvety lounge jams, something that they would capitalise on in fourth record ‘IV’. ‘Talk Memory’ however, aims for something more traditional, allowing experimentation to occur within more clearly drawn lines. Choosing to work closely with legendary Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai has infused richness and further depth, and whilst Verocai isn't featured on every track, his influence is felt strongly throughout, exemplified on the high-flying strings of third track ‘City of Mirrors’. From fluctuating epic opener ‘Signal from the Noise’ a work of heavy psychedelic jazz fusion possessing incredibly melodic motifs, it is impossible to deny how much the group has grown in scope, despite Verocai not asserting his presence until two songs later.
Maturity aside, the absence of core member Matthew Tavares is apparent throughout ‘Talk Memory’. His keyboard work was pivotal to the textural backing of their earlier releases, although the remaining members have not allowed this to overshadow the mood of the album. This change sees ‘Talk Memory’ lean more towards free form, soloing and composition than the more common straight structuring of the past with Verocai's string section and the injection of new instruments and musicians resulting in eight songs that are deeply dynamic and wholly engaging. The inclusion of harpist Brandee Younger on final track ‘Talk Meaning’ proves to be the central light beam that gives scope to the song and as she leads the album toward its final few minutes. The snow-kissed zither from Laraaji on ‘Unfolding (Momentum 73)’ and the amaryllis-scented Latin drum work from Karriem Riggins aside Arthur Verocai's compositional work on album centrepiece 'Beside April' make it hard to imagine any future releases without these musicians present.
All things considered, I highly doubt BADBADNOTGOOD will have any difficulty coaxing artists to help realise their new concepts and moving forward and I do not predict a return to their almost accompaniment role of the past, especially considering just how much of a success ‘Talk Memory’ has been in reigniting the flame that their fans held for their work back during 2010. For a band that's often chosen to emphasise the ‘vibe’ over technical expansion, the multifaceted ‘Love Proceeding’ with Verocai's city-street strings swirling into Leland Whitty's smoky tenor sax, buoyed by Chester Hansen's minimal yet integral bass work is incredibly refreshing. Even when it seems the lean into fusion fundamentals has gone a little too far, the muck-covered psychedelic guitar work and ambient synth and sax prove a prime example of the unwavering commitment by BADBADNOTGOOD to represent all of their inspirations in the most devoted way they can. The beating heart of jazz's history and development is stowed away in the thick tissue and marrow of ‘Talk Memory’ with Whitty's maniacal soprano sax solo on ‘Timid, Intimidating’ being an absolute affirmation that BADBADNOTGOOD have put their souls on the line with everything they’ve done on this album.
A wonderful outcome of musical collaboration is that even when people or ideas may need to be replaced, there is always someone or something else there to replace them. In jazz, where any combination of melodies and harmonies and rhythms can be impeached at the end of a session, BADBADNOTGOOD through working with artists spanning the genre gamut and losing some of their most elemental members, have come to understand this idea intimately. It's what causes ‘Talk Memory’ to be so stirring even if you aren't aware of all the aforementioned details concerning the album's creation: because none of that matters all that much when you're listening to it.
Every single person who worked on ‘Talk Memory’ knew precisely what was needed, and this heavenly new incarnation of the band is one with undeniable room to grow within boundless space. Whilst It's somewhat clear which direction BADBADNOTGOOD are heading in next, it’s near impossible to predict the location exactly. As of now, the act is in a quantum state of artistic existence, and anybody who has been in that winding forest for themselves will know just how thrilling a spot it is to be in. With a band like this in that position, listeners can deeply feel all that sublimity for themselves, whether they've traveled that same road or not. No other experience can come so close to transcendence.