Arts and Entertainment

“Talk Memory”: An Instrumental Escapade

How BADBADNOTGOOD develops their sound to new peaks in “Talk Memory”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Unlike their name, BADBADNOTGOOD is anything but. Though unknown to most, the Canadian band has likely been behind the scenes on many of the songs on your playlist from Kendrick Lamar to Kali Uchis. Formed in 2010 by keyboardist Matthew Tavares, bassist Chester Hansen, drummer Alexander Sowinski, and saxophonist Leland Whitty, the group began their career by covering and putting their own spin on hip-hop songs and releasing their own live improvisations to streaming services. Over time, they graduated from impromptu jam sessions to exceptional albums that blurred the lines between hip-hop, jazz, and rock while redefining the limits of jazz as a genre. BADBADNOTGOOD’s vibrant, soulful production has amplified the performance of lyricists of the generation, such as Ghostface Killah, Tyler the Creator, and MF DOOM. The band has grown from imitating their idols to performing alongside them.

Recently, their group dynamic has undergone significant change. Frontman and founder Matthew Tavares stepped down from his position in BADBADNOTGOOD after dedicating nine years of his life to the band. “Matty was the guy who really had production visions and experience engineering things,” saxophonist Leland Whitty said in an interview with PostGenre. “After he quit the band, it took us time to establish a new vision of what the band would be like without him.”

After a five-year hiatus, BADBADNOTGOOD (BBNG) released their fifth album “Talk Memory” earlier this year. Historically viewed by mainstream media as a solely “jazz-improv” group and by jazz critics as out-of-the-box nontraditionalists, BBNG’s prior sound was hard to define, limiting their popularity and marketability. In contrast, “Talk Memory” has a clear focus and trajectory. Each of the eight tracks is a voyage to a distinct musical habitat.

The opener, “Signal from the Noise,” is a nine-minute expedition through unfiltered jazz-rock fusion, providing a sneak peek not only into the rest of the album but the new sonic era of BBNG. This new stage of their discography is characterized by complex arrangements that include a variety of unique instruments and natural-sounding acoustics to create a comforting yet eerie atmosphere. The gloomy, reverbed mesh of guitar, synthesizers, and percussion found in “Signal from the Noise” creates an image of swimming through a lake under a layer of mist.

In contrast to the subtlety of the album thus far, “City of Mirrors” boasts a grandiose theme of live orchestral music. The addition of Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai and his string arrangements, accompanied by Hansen’s tranquil piano chords and Sowinski’s signature drumming, create an opening that is theatrical, cinematic, and vivid. The music transitions from layer to layer, reaching a triumphant conclusion as all voices swell for a final encore. “City of Mirrors” is an abstract journey and does an outstanding job of painting a scene of bliss through sound.

“Talk Meaning,” the closing ballad to the album, ushers in harpist Brandee Younger and saxophonist Terrance Martin for an epic Latin jazz finish, taking the listener on an excursion through Rio de Janeiro. Though the emotion-filled saxophone solo may be overbearing for some, the harp alleviates the harshness and guides the listener to a moment of clarity before fading out. Typically, the final song of an album brings together the narrative and thematic content set by the other tracks; “Talk Meaning” contains beautiful melodies and solos but does not coherently align with the rest of the album’s tone. However, knowing BADBADNOTGOOD’s purposeful approach toward their music and their defiance of genre norms, perhaps this track, rather than a traditional closer, serves as a preview of what's next.

In its entirety, “Talk Memory” is the group’s most cohesive album to date. Each song stands alone and showcases the unique musical diversity the group offers while also working as a collection, held together by the motif of subtle notes and explosive drums. While showing appreciation for the jazz forefathers that inspired them, the band creates their own distinct path forward. With “Talk Memory,” BADBADNOTGOOD has cemented themselves as jazz virtuosos and musical pioneers, bringing the genre forward and pushing the creative boundaries of instrumental music.