BADBADNOTGOOD’s ‘Talk Memory’ is inaccessible to average listener

Album Cover of BadBadNotGood's latest album Talk Memory
XL Recordings/Courtesy

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Grade: 2.5/5.0 

Following a five-year hiatus from its last release, Toronto group BADBADNOTGOOD has returned with its new album, Talk Memory. The eight-track album features only instrumentals with a heavy jazz influence, making for an ambient listening experience. It boasts impressive features such as saxophonist Terrance Martin (known for his work with Kendrick Lamar) and Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai. 

For a listener with a particularly musical ear, Talk Memory may come across as impeccably crafted, but for the average listener, the album’s often repetitive instrumentals fall flat. 

Most will recognize BADBADNOTGOOD from its song “Time Moves Slow” from its 2016 album IV, which blew up on TikTok after being remixed by artist VANO 3000 earlier this year. 

Even though the group mainly focuses on instrumentals, it often sprinkles in a vocal feature here and there. “In Your Eyes,” another popular song off IV, features vocalist Charlotte Day Wilson, blending her bluesy vocals into a tune that sounds like it was made for the closing of a movie. Both songs lead the top of their Spotify “Popular” section, which can be misleading to intrigued, new listeners who aren’t expecting mainly instrumental tracks. 

If first-time listeners who became followers of the group after listening to the single anticipated more of the same on Talk Memory, they will most likely be met with disappointment. Here, BADBADNOTGOOD moves far away from its R&B adjacent stylings, fully into the realm of serious jazz.

While Talk Memory is successful in producing impressive jazz-like instrumentals (akin to that found in a hipster coffee shop), without a musical ear, it may be difficult to celebrate the album in its entirety for its craft elements. For the average listener, the album is probably one that is glazed over, and most likely added to a playlist dedicated exclusively to studying. There is no strong sense of melody to hold on to, no clear-cut concept to understand. Challenging listening is putting it lightly.

The album opens with “Signal from the Noise,” a nine-minute track that begins with an ominous and slow-sounding instrumental until it picks up pace layering in different sounds as the track goes on. The song itself provides a circular listening experience, where repetition and layering of different elements makes it easy for the listener to get lost in the lengthy track. But rather than dreading its prolonged composition, all of the contributory elements blend together. “Signal From The Noise” prefaces the meticulous nature that must have gone into crafting an album of this degree that any listener can stop and appreciate.

“Love Proceeding,” featuring Arthur Verocai, is leisurely and soft, with a saxophone solo that picks up midway through the track. Mixing in different instrumental aspects could easily throw off the listener, but the group does a beautiful job in fading in and out different sounds to immerse it’s audience into the sound. There is not one track on the album that is obnoxiously brash or loud, sticking to an overall softer composition that makes for an easy (if forgettable) listening experience. It’s difficult to explain the intricacies of each song because of this, where the album leans on the edge of boring. 

Talk Memory’s is overall disappointing because of how dismissable the album itself is. Individual tracks can easily be forgotten — where the sound of each track blends into one another, meshing into one largely mundane, indistinguishable sound. On one hand, that aspect of the album could be celebrated as cohesive, but the album lacks individuality on each track, where none feel like they can stand alone. It’s difficult to relinquish the intricate instrumentals that exist on the album to simply boring, but after the initial listen to the album all the way through, there really isn’t a need for a second.

Contact Kaitlin Clapinski at [email protected].