1. 99.9% by Kaytranada
The cover art for 99.9% is emblematic of the music it contains. This is abstract, bright music that demands the listener’s attention. With polyrythmic, massive-bass driven production, Kaytranada comes up with some truly unique production that skitters across a wide array of sounds, never getting into a rut. While it can be broadly classified as electronica, with distinct hip-hop influences, there is a significant amount of progressive genre-blending here, particularly with the percussion, such as on the stellar BBNG-assisted Weight Off, the unmatched Glow’d Up with Anderson.Paak’s inspired vocal performance, and Breakdance Lesson N.1 which sounds like straight 80s hip-hop interspersed with futuristic synths. It’s a bit of a disappointment then, that some of the vocalists, particularly with their lyrics, sound rather uninspired. I have a love-hate relationship with Little Dragon vocalist Yukimi Nagano, and the closing track, Bullets, does little to sway my opinion towards love. One Too Many has Phonte pushing his singing abilities to an unfortunate breaking point, alongside some truly cringeworthy lyrics. However, when the music plays, these issues recede, for Kay’s stellar work on the boards is front-and-center. The instrumentals are unlike anything I’ve heard this year, and sounds just at home on full blast as they do in my headphones. Save for the occasional vocal misstep, then, 99.9% is a hypnotic, layered record created by a man with a meticulous ear for sound. Music is all the better for it.
2. Cloud Nine by Kygo
Kygo is a phenomenon: he’s almost single-handedly engineered the next wave of festival-filling EDM with tropical house, that’s come to permeate the mainstream in an incredibly short period.Courtesy of a few uber-popular singles, all eyes have been on Kygo, which he’s directed towards this album, Cloud Nine. Unfortunately, Kygo’s music, while very well done, reveals its biggest flaw – its homogeneity – when extended to album length. In fact, most of the best tracks on the album, gorgeous in their own right, have already been released as singles. Some of the strongest vocals on the album appear on Firestone and Stole The Show, courtesy of Conrad Sewell and Parson James respectively, while the acoustic stylings of Kodaline on Raging and James Vincent McMorrow on I’m In Love make them some of the best tracks here. Among the deep cuts, Happy Birthday is a shimmering gem featuring the always-incredibe John Legend, and Not Alone featuring RHODES is worth multiple listens. As with most EDM, lyrics are hardly the focus here, being standard pop fare. The production is obviously why we’re here, and Kygo’s blend of lush, summery synths and strings, and gorgeous keys remain beautifully atmospheric, which shine through on the instrumental Intro and the closing For What It’s Worth, which would’ve been better off as the original vocal-less Piano Jam. Even as the tracks bleed into each other, Cloud Nine remains vibrant and truly stunning in sections. Kygo’s music, then, is clearly better off consumed as individual songs, than listened to as a traditional album. With that in mind, the listener can settle into some wonderful vibes with Cloud Nine.
3. Konnichiwa by Skepta
Skepta has been consistently building anticipation for Konnichiwa for about a year now, with cosigns by Drake and Kanye, and riding the wave of some stellar singles. A grime album hasn’t seen so many eyes on it in a long time. Fortunately, the album lives up to quite a lot of the hype. Konnichiwa sticks to the tried and tested grime formula for the most part: aggressive, no-frills production, flow and rhymes, a version of braggadocios hip-hop at its bluntest. It isn’t particularly innovative, but it doesn’t aim to be. It’s technical, clever and authentic rap. The few instances Skepta steps out of his comfort zone are met with mixed results; the Pharrell-assisted Numbers is a nice standout(could’ve done without the Pharrell verse though) and Text Me Back should not be dismissed as “one for the ladies,” having some genuine emotion not found anywhere else on the album. Ladies Hit Squad, on the other hand, is a terribly generic club song that is an unnecessary attempt at breaking into the US mainstream. Speaking of the mainstream, Skepta will definitely find a place on the playlists of hip-hop heads and grime newcomers across the world with Konnichiwa, although it will probably not blow up on the charts. It’s far from pop, but it’s real. And as straightforward as the music may be, Skepta is assured in his abilities, and he ensures the listener knows it.