Drums do funny things on Kaytranada tracks. The Montreal producer comes from the world of SoundCloud house remixes. He made his name on an unauthorized 2012 remix of Janet Jackson’s “If,” and since then, he’s been touring big rooms and festivals in Europe, sharing bills with the EDM elite. But his music doesn’t sound like theirs, and that’s largely because his drums don’t sound like theirs. In most current-day EDM, drums are in strict lockstep; it’s why so many people deride that stuff as oontz-oontz music. Kaytranada’s drums don’t do that. They stumble all over each other, sometimes hitting just a millisecond after they feel like they should or skittering when they could thump. He likes to work with live drummers, guys who know about jazz and funk. 99.9%, Kaytranada’s debut album, has collaborations with people like Kariem Riggins and BADBADNOTGOOD, artists who straddle lines between jazz and rap and futuristic bass music. And even when he’s just programming drums, Kaytranada’s timing feels sweaty and human — much closer to those guys than to Disclosure, the group to whom he’s most often compared. He sounds less like a SoundCloud remixer and more like a kid who grew up on J Dilla, which is also what he is.
Kaytranada’s life story, as detailed in this great FADER profile, is a fascinating and singular one: Born in Haiti, emigrated to Montreal as a baby, failed a couple of grades in school and then dropped out of high school when his music career took off, still lives in his family home and shares a bedroom with his brother, only just told his family that he’s gay. He’s 23, but at least in that story, he comes off like someone still learning how to move through the world. Still, he’s a child of the internet. He and his brother raised themselves on true-school rap, then branched out into house and disco and whatever else. And what’s most immediately striking about 99.9% is how confident it is. It completely ignores anyone’s ideas about genre. It’s house and pop and rap and spaced-out astral jazz and euphoric late-night disco and glittering clothes-shopping music all at once. It branches out in so many directions, and yet it all holds together beautifully. On record at least, Kaytranada comes across as someone who’s already got all his shit figured out.
Musically and stylistically, they’re nothing alike, and yet 99.9% has, I think, a whole lot in common with Jamie xx’s In Colour. These are two debut albums from young producers who already have years of experience in making large numbers of people dance, and yet the albums themselves don’t seem to care whether they could function as actual dance music. Instead, these albums work as lush, sustained mood pieces, both of them moving together as a whole, going through twists and eddies and detours, exploring their own ideas. But the moods they explore are different ones. Where Jamie xx was on some lonely, contemplative shit, making music for riding taxis home from the club alone at three in the morning, Kaytranada is in a different place. 99.9% is a sunny album. It’s buoyant, lively, and free. Even its down moments radiate joy. Like In Colour, 99.9% feels like a genre unto itself. But unlike that one, this is music for the beginning of the summer, for when the world seems to explode with possibility.
Most of the tracks on 99.9% have collaborators, and plenty of those collaborators are of-the-moment types: Vic Mensa, AlunaGeorge, Little Dragon, Goldlink. But many of the album’s best moments come when Kaytranada joins forces with people you might not expect. On “One Too Many,” he teams up with Phonte, the veteran North Carolina rapper and singer, gifting him with this bubbling post-disco bounce. Part of the time, Phonte is rapping in the same stumbling conversational cadences that he used in Little Brother, his beloved old underground rap group. And part of the time, he’s singing in the liquid, euphoric soul tenor that he’s been using in the Foreign Exchange, his more recent project. It’s a great showcase for a guy who hasn’t been in the public eye a ton lately. Similarly, “Got It Good” brings back Craig David, the London singer who was once the pop face of the UK garage movement. Other producers might give David their version of a garage track. Kaytranada gives him a lighter-than-air burble with a jazz bassline and house drums that sound like they’re being smothered with a pillow. David floats above it effortlessly. It’s beautiful.
And Kaytranada works the same sort of miracles when he’s working with newer artists, too. On “You’re The One,” the Internet’s Syd Tha Kid gives the best vocal I’ve ever heard from her. The song is one of the album’s more straight-up dance tracks, a shuffling lope with a laser-guided bassline. And over that, Syd sings with a dazed sense of wonder. Where any other singer would bust out their best diva howls, she’s quiet and narcotized, halfway to muttering. And on “Glowed Up,” California polyglot Anderson .Paak proves that he might be Kaytranada’s ideal collaborator — equally comfortable singing and rapping, capable of effortlessly navigating Dilla-style bass murk, his voice weird and high-pitched enough to complement the track’s low-key haze. Two thirds of the way through, when the track switches up and becomes a completely new song, Anderson .Paak just moves with it, staying fully in sync.
Really, all the collaborators here turn in some of their best recent work. Kaytranada’s chosen them all wisely, getting them to do things we often haven’t heard from them, pushing their voices in interesting directions. And he does the same thing with his own musical gifts. 99.9% is a flat-out musical album, one that bursts with melodic and rhythmic ideas, its jazz chords and house drums and hip-hop bass all intermingling frictionlessly. It’s different — we just don’t get to hear drums like that in dance music or in any of its associated subgenres — but it sounds like it’s always been with us.
99.9% is out 5/6 on XL.
Other albums of note out this week:
• White Lung’s hard, gleaming, furious, excellent Paradise.
• ANOHNI’s powerful, experimental, dance-shaded HOPELESSNESS.
• Skepta’s as-yet-unheard, much-anticipated grime attack Konnichiwa.
• Death Grips’ mysterious Bottomless Pit.
• Julianna Barwick’s impressionistic, free-floating Will.
• LUH.’s guttural, feverish debut Spiritual Songs For Lovers To Sing.
• Little Scream’s orchestral, idiosyncratic Cult Following.
• Homeboy Sandman’s wordy, good-natured Kindness For Weakness.
• Grave Miasma’s vast black metaller Endless Pilgrimage.
• Chris Cohen’s mellow, homespun As If Apart.
• Big Star offshoot Those Pretty Wrongs’ self-titled debut.
• Beverly’s warm, dreamy The Blue Spell.
• Yoni & Geti’s conceptual collaboration Testarossa.
• Aloha’s playfully gentle Little Windows Cut Right Through.
• Tourist’s relationship-themed electronic LP U.
• Electronic-music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre’s collab-heavy Electronic Vol. 2: The Heart Of Noise.
• A Giant Dog’s springy indie rocker Pile.
• Vektor’s old-school thrash attack Terminal Redux.
• Shit Robot’s disco-house LP What Follows.
• Former S.C.U.M. frontman Thomas Cohen’s solo move Bloom Forever.
• Spookyland’s thundering, classic-rocking Beauty Already Beautiful.
• Children Of Pop’s DIY synthpopper What Does 69 Mean?.
• Praise’s Leave It All Behind EP.
• MUNA’s Loudspeaker EP.
• Lil Silva’s Jimi EP.
• Joker’s Phoenix EP.
• Oliver Wilde’s Long Hold Star, An Infinite Abduction EP.