Album Review: BADBADNOTGOOD – Talk Memory

[XL/Innovative Leisure; 2021]

Maybe it’s due to the internet, maybe it’s because the right amount of time passed, or maybe it’s for a completely unrelated reason, but over the past decade jazz has gained a lot of traction in the popular music scene. It’s hard to point to any exact reasons for why that happened.

It’s a similar story with the band at hand — BADBADNOTGOOD. The Toronto-based jazz-trio rose to prominence in an unexpected, almost mysterious way – and before long they were collaborating with the likes of Tyler, The Creator, Daniel Caesar, and Kendrick Lamar, to name a few – and let’s not forget they put out an entire album with Ghostface Killah. One thing is for certain: jazz goes well with hip-hop. This, of course, is not news. However, modern jazz artists, especially BADBADNOTGOOD, put a fresh take on this known paradigm.

How is it that BADBADNOTGOOD, out of all modern jazz acts, are collaborating with some of the most recognized rappers of our time and accumulating nearly four million monthly listeners on Spotify alone? Every one of these millions of listeners may cite their own reasons for dedicating their time to the Canadian three-piece, but there’s one aspect of their music that is undeniable: it’s got insane groove.

Following 2016’s IV, the band took a creative break before starting on their fifth solo album. Talk Memory is also the first BADBADNOTGOOD record without founding member Matthew Tavares, who departed in 2019. As per their own words: “It took a year or two of just living life to get to the place where the creative process was exciting again and once we actually went in to the studio it was the most concise recording and writing process we’ve ever had.”

BADBADNOTGOOD have clearly reached a fresh vision for what they want their music to sound like and Talk Memory certainly reflects that. The first single and opening track, “Signal From The Noise”, practically screams ‘this is not like what you’ve heard from us before’. It is an epic, improvisational opener with almost a Western-like feel to it that feels like a crescendo at the beginning of the record.

The album feels like an aftermath, like memories of some very significant event, with the opening track acting as a transition from the event itself. As the album progresses, we hear life moving onwards from that point, bearing the after-effects with it.

Certain tracks could be taken out to be listened to indivdually, but it would ruin the impact of the album as a whole. Talk Memory demands to be heard in one sitting and focused on throughout. This goes hand in hand with BADBADNOTGOOD’s improvisational spirit; it gives you the feeling of experiencing it live in the moment.

Talk Memory boasts collaborations with the likes of Floating Points, Terrace Martin, and Laraaji, as well as string arrangements on multiple tracks by Brazilian legend Arthur Verocai. With the help of these collaborators, BADBADNOTGOOD venture into the realm of dark jazz – not without incredible beauty – with a focus on mood building and atmospheric soundscapes. The band are not afraid to make the record feel like there is too much going on; whether it’s the silvery tornado of Verocai’s string arrangement on “City of Mirrors” or the sparkling snowdrift of Brandee Younger’s harp on “Talk Meaning”, it only augments the overall experience.

Talk Memory will likely provoke a range of reactions from long-term fans. It undoubtedly displays creative development from BADBADNOTGOOD, but maybe not in ways that everyone will welcome. They made their name by creating groovy records, and while grooves are still present on Talk Memory, they are certainly different and less apparent. One thing that can’t be denied is that it opens up more with each listen, and if this isn’t a reason to keep returning to it again and again, then I don’t know what would be.