Contemporary jazz funksters BadBadNotGood have made a name for themselves over the years through their electro-infused, acidic compositions, as well as collaborations with various big-named artists. They’ve delved into everything from renditions of video game soundtracks to classic hip hop, but on their latest single, I Don’t Know, they visit a place of heart-wrenching emotion balanced with musical sophistication.
The thing that first strikes on I Don’t Know is the anguished lyrical content, delivered by Future Islands vocalist Samuel T. Herring. His rueful crooning is backed by warped, organ-like chords and an impassioned string section, offset by steadily plodding percussion and bass.
A decisive cymbal hit after the first refrain marks a shift in pace and tone; Herring’s voice takes on a powerful, determined quality that he reserves for the choruses, while the verses are soulful, sorrowful and suffused with ennui. A softly plucked guitar riff accompanies the latter, juxtaposed with the smooth swell of the strings. This makes the final chorus and outro all the more jarring and evocative, with Herring surrendering to full-blown, malaise-laced snarls and the strings to frenetic vibrato.
As Herring’s heartbreaking, echoing vocalisations fade away and I Don’t Know draws to its close, reflections on how BadBadNotGood has evolved as a group come to mind. Gone are the young Canadian boys whose vision was once dismissed by leading jazz performance instructors; in their place is a pioneering and inspirational collective at the height of their maturity.