After over 5 years of silence (mostly), Canadian instrumental jazz/hip-hop group BADBADNOTGOOD (hereinafter abbreviated as BBNG) has finally emerged from the shadows with the release of their fifth full-length solo album, Talk Memory.

Album cover of Talk Memory, courtesy of BADBADNOTGOOD

Besides the fact that we expected their next album to be called 5 or V (following the pattern of their first four solo albums), there were plenty of other features to Talk Memory that left BBNG’s longtime fans surprised.

Starting from the album’s announcement, it was already clear that this new record would be unlike any of their other releases. For example, the first track on their album alone declared a stark shift from their distinct sound. As an epic nine minute opening track, “Signal from the Noise” begins with 20 seconds of speaker static, which is then followed by a reverb-drenched piano and an overly-saturated guitar distortion. After setting the main theme of the song, the guitar breaks off into an energetic ride of a solo. The rest of the song builds on that energy, reintroducing the theme until it fades out in the last minute. These pieces combined creates a track that is so hypnotizingly grand it feels more like three minutes than nine. Later with the release of the second single of the album, “Beside April,” BBNG enchants us with gorgeous string arrangements from celebrated Brazilian composer, Arthur Verocai, that is magically layered on top of the same distorted guitar we heard in the first single. The change in sound has always excited me, and I have been eagerly anticipating the album’s release.

Perhaps most unexpectedly of all was how the album was purely instrumental, going against a pattern I thought they were setting up with multiple lyrical performances in their last album. However, BBNG’s genre-busting sound had always been a distinct and lovable feature of their music. Heavily drawing influences from so many different genres, the band has captured the attention of hip-hop, indie rock, and jazz fans. And with collaborations with Drake, Rihanna, KAYTRANADA, and Daniel Caesar, BBNG has never been bound to a single genre.

The band’s first two albums felt like elaborate hip hop jam sessions. Many of their tracks were covers of other hip hop classics, their instrumentation was relatively bare, and the songs were static in a loop. In fact, a lot of the sounds produced in these albums were often just the band members taking turns improvising with pre-existing grooves. But there is also a particular quality about the band’s first albums that led to an immediate rise in their fanbase. Whether it was because of the dynamic chemistry that each of the band members shared with each other or because of the unique integration of instrumental genres that operated under the jazz umbrella, BBNG has been consistently making music that sound like they’ve all been composed under one mind. For this and many other reasons combined, the band has instantly left an imprint as a gem to the music scene. In their following albums, they have never lost the essence of what makes them so special, despite their continual experimentation with new sounds in every song and album.

The notes of BBNG2 famously stated: “No one above the age of 21 was involved in the making of this album.” Even with a rotation in their member roster, the average age of the band members are slowly approaching their thirties. However, BBNG still sounds just as fresh and recklessly youthful as ever in Talk Memory. Tracks still place Chester Hansen’s brilliant bass playing at the forefront of attention. The long and wild guitar solos on tracks like “Signal from the Noise” and “Timid, Intimidating” were the same kind of guitar solos that had people “moshing to jazz” and their older records. The band also has not yet lost their special dynamic that extrapolates the talent of each individual musician while also collectively creating an orderly and refined sound.

At the same time, Talk Memory features brand new qualities that make it by far the most deviant and experimental project the band has put out. Firstly, the fact that the album name is made up of words instead of numbers already suggests a more unified album theme. Whereas their first four solo albums may have sounded like a slightly random collection of songs, Talk Memory is definitely the band’s most coherent album (especially in terms of its consistent instrumentation and composition patterns to its strategically-placed tempo changes). As mentioned earlier, Arthur Verocai brought beautiful string melodies to songs such as “City of Mirrors” and “Love Proceeding.” Unlike BBNG and BBNG2, Talk Memory is not even remotely loopy. Instead, it feels much more cinematic. For example, the album features elaborate, written-out passages, such as in the main chorus of “Beside April,” but then juxtaposes them with impressively crafted improvisations like the sax solo in “Unfolding (Momentum 73).” Talk Memory concludes with an unexpected delicate harp outro of “Talk Meaning” that I believe represents the band’s promise to future experimentation and change.

Talk Memory is lavish with fresh instrumentation, beautiful orchestration, and the phenomenal capturing of “that BBNG sound” that made them so lovable in the first place. Although the album displays the most “jazz” the band has ever put out, they still gracefully hold onto their roots in dabbling with various other genres. Most of all, Talk Memory is a testament to the band’s growth as producers. Time seems to only have brought about good things for the band. Their experience working with other musicians has enabled them to compose more cohesively and thoughtfully, all while retaining the same youthful energy that fuels their experimentation and curiosity for new sounds. 

I am so excited to hear the things BBNG will continue to create in the future. Even if it takes another five years for them to find their next sound, if it’s anything as well-crafted as Talk Memory, it will certainly be worth the wait.