Now that you can stream the entirety of our Album of the Month, BADBADNOTGOOD's IV, we thought we'd have someone guide you through your first spin of the album. We couldn't think of anyone better than Bijan Stephen to do just that and he was gracious enough to oblige. You can stream the album and read his listening notes below.
1. A warm embrace from an old friend; someone you’d forgotten about, a little, even though you’d been so close before. You made plans you planned to keep, and now you’re both here, in this place, and you’re saying how good it is to see them and finding that you really mean it. You swing right back into the past, into that dynamic you two have always had; it’s great, even though you both know it’s temporary. You don’t live nearby each other anymore. You never will again. You’ll make plans to see each other again, though, and you’ll mean it when you offer to visit. You’ll just never have time to.
Anyway, this song sounds like that. It sets the mood—you’re about to take a journey in the key of nostalgia.
2. “In Your Eyes” is an old-school jam, something your dad might play for you on a long car trip while surreptitiously monitoring your reaction. The production is exceedingly simple, held together by a grooving, neo-soul bassline and a smattering of chiming guitar chords. Charlotte Day Wilson’s vocals are impeccable; just enough breathy vibrato and ennui and need to be totally convincing. It’s a late afternoon song, or a 2am song—a salve for an aftermath, for the comedown.
3. This song feels like unexpectedly stumbling into a secret sculpture garden. There are several large figures, some hard to comprehend, each placed in surprising configurations. You get the sense you could live there, if you wanted; there’s a peace you find hard to explain at the garden’s heart. “Structure No. 3” is delicately arranged, and its few sections are carefully arrayed. The song ends almost as an afterthought.
4. With “Hyssop of Love” BBNG reprise the role they had on 2015’s Sour Soul, their album-length collaboration with Ghostface Killah. On this cut, with Mick Jenkins, the quartet fades into the background and lets Jenkins’ flow stand front and center. It seems like a natural mode of expression for BBNG—they’re so confident in their abilities that they’re not afraid to share space with anyone else. Jenkins talks about love using the language of a drug deal: He’s the plug, peddling feelings. “I heard your plug was dry/And I think I got what you need/I could be your guy/No this ain’t no weed, different type of high,” Jenkins raps as the chorus. Incidentally, “Hyssop of Love” also contains the slickest Dragon Ball Z reference I’ve heard in years. (“They crippin much like Krillin/How they disc could destruct,” Jenkins raps.)
5. The title track, “IV,” feels like a trip back to what BBNG does best. It’s long and elegantly textured, a sublime technical achievement. The song sounds more recognizably jazz than anything else on the album, and it’s laid-back and comfortable in the groove that develops. Each section is distinct—all four musicians have their chance to shine—and together they feel like eras. You can hear the time passing. It ends on a preening saxophone solo that feels like an afterlife.
6. “Chompy’s Paradise” is a wordless, slurred ballad for a dystopia. Or at least that’s how it feels to me; it sounds like the kind of love song that the ecological activists in Final Fantasy VII would play for each other, something that stands in for and explains desire frustrated by circumstance. Sometimes things just don’t work out, because there’s no time / the world is garbage / they just weren’t meant to! The synths are mournful, sure, but they’re also a little sinister—just like the main saxophone line, which sniffs around the edges of listlessness. Play this for someone you’ve got a strong emotional connection with but haven’t slept with, and think about how good everything would be if you did.
7. This is a hard-edged song for an electronic wilderness. It feels ported directly from an 8-bit video game about surviving in a Mad Max-esque future desert; it’s a game you can’t win, because you play until you die and then start again from the beginning. Kaytranada’s electric bleeps and overdriven synths synch perfectly with BBNG’s activist bass and shimmering guitar. This one bops along. I’d put it on repeat and play Super Nintendo with the TV on mute.
8. “Confessions Pt II” has the most adventurous time signature of the 11 songs on IV. It feels avant garde, though it’s constructed from the same building blocks as the other songs on the album. The baritone sax takes a menacing star turn—squealing, dipping, roaring—and powers the song forward, while an insistent bass drum kick makes it feel like the hounds of hell are on your heels. The pace is loping, though, more ultramarathon than anything. Enduring is pure pleasure.
9. It’s appropriate that “Time Moves Slow” is unhurried. “Running away is easy/It’s the living that’s hard,” Sam Herring sings, concerned and resigned to the end of his relationship. “And loving you was easy/It was you leaving that scarred,” he continues. You can hear the scar in his voice; he’s a person who’s nearly out of their post-heartbreak depression. Wounds heal eventually. It’s important to remember they scar much more slowly with age.
10. Initially I thought “Speaking Gently” was minor-key triumphalism, a reprise of the themes from the preceding tracks. I was half wrong; it is a reprise, but it isn’t triumphant. I mistook aggressive, confidence, and inventive instrumentation for something totally different. “Speaking Gently” is the kind of song you’d hear three quarters of the way through Blue Velvet, just as the tension is breaking into resolution. It’s the song you might catch yourself humming weeks later, not remembering where the melody came from.
11. “And That, Too” is pleasingly choral, with a tight central scheme. The whole song swirls and eddies around that melodic phrase, and it never once spirals out of control. Listening to it feels like watching an abstract painter start with a blank canvas and begin layering paint onto its surface. Thick and thin, starting from the middle and working outward. By the end the whole canvas is black; you eventually realize the process was the point.