IV was leaked more than a month in advance of its intended release and you could make an argument against piracy out of it, but you shouldn’t because it really says more about the fervour of the fans waiting desperately to wrap their paws around any new material the group could provide, illicitly gained or not. Fortunately for them and the group itself, IV is a formidable release that will have surely used that extra time on the (black bit) market to cement itself in the jazz pop psyche and earn back some of the lost clams that torrents allegedly claim.
The Toronto quartet (née trio) rolls out their latest release in a low key but distinctly BADBADNOTGOOD way. The opener And That, Too. is almost a sinister stakeout, a prelude waiting to pounce on the album’s remaining ten tracks. From there the album only gets more, well, moreish.
Besides the un-enumerated Sour Soul (a hip-hop heavy, jazz jape platform for Ghostface Killah), this is the first album for the boys that truly features featured guests. Certainly it’s the first with vocal accoutrement and definitively the first with Leland Whitty (a previously regular contributor) as an official BBNG boy. Without being in on the jam it’s hard to say what kind of impact this actually had on the sound of the album but in many ways it feels like a welcome mat, a softball entry into BBNG territory.
In part, IV feels like a best-of featuring new songs or, more fittingly, old ideas made fresh by new friends conversing. Each track is so smooth and subtly segued that you could easily travel from one end to the other without realising you took the trip at all, though, by holding a up a map of their previous meanderings you can start to recognise familiar landmarks, not distorted but reassessed by time, exposure, and the shifting perspectives garnered from experience.
The second track Speaking Gently, for instance, looks at III‘s Kaleidoscope, but softly, as though through the wistful, sepia lens of time, becoming, in many ways, a revisitation of the old by the new, intentions and perspectives charged by an almost ruminatory reflection, and it’s certainly not the only reminiscent riff or refrain to feature on the album.
What’s truly new, however, are the vocals, well, at least for the BBNG boys as they are. The accompaniment is used sparingly, spaced with an overarchingly perfect sense of timing, and only cements the group as purveyors of almost anachronistically classic composition. The first of the three vocal tracks, Time Moves Slow featuring Sam Herring, has a timeless slow jazz vibe and harkens towards a Bill Withers by Thelonious Monk blend that is inescapably engaging. The Mick Jenkins beat, Hyssop of Love, is a hip hop aside that embraces every complimentary cadence and In Your Eyes with Charlotte Day Wilson is simply a beautiful, soul ridden example of songcraft that could play anywhere between here and yesteryear.
IV is not III and maybe that’s a sad sentiment considering how incredible III really was, but IV comports itself with a maturity and reflectively joyful sobriety that previous BBNG offerings only ever hinted at. Fans of the group’s previous efforts may not have their socks blown off, merely removed, darned and re-administered, and newcomers may only hear the smooth tinkling of soft background soul. However, those who listen, learn, and love, will find an album full of unadulterated pleasure, albeit in a key that seems too soft to touch, though if you let it, you might just find yourself being touched back.