Why Kaytranada’s “99.9%” Should Win the Polaris Prize

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by Cissy Suen

Whether it’s the interestingly somber sounding tropical house that’s taken over the top 40 or the multitudes of synths and drum pads that have seeped into the arsenals of independent bands, electronic music is becoming steadily integrated into musical fashion. We’ve known Kaytranada since his early days remixing Janet Jackson’s “If“, Flume’s “Holdin’ On“, and my personal favourite, Beverlay’s “Typically Her“, but never did I imagine Kaytranada’s debut album to land him at the forefront of modern electronic avant-garde, with the likes of Flume and Jamie xx – the genius movement of production that transcends music and leaves its mark on art as a whole.

The cacophony of genres on 99.9% is on par with the mega talented roster of featured artists, but what really sets apart the record from the rest of the Polaris shortlisters is the maturity shown in Kaytranada’s signature stochastic musicality. It’s this maturity that gives birth to the subtle cascade of brass within the funky jazz of “Weight Off”, a well-crafted collaboration with some of the best performers in the industry, BADBADNOTGOOD. It’s a calm within a calamity, a eureka in a beautiful confusion, an oasis that appears again in the tone down, haze up finale of “Glowed Up” featuring Anderson .Paak. It’s not just restricted within the songs. From “Glowed Up” our drums switch oh so fluidly into “Breakdance Lesson N.1”. Each track is meant to complement the other in unexpected ways that come with each play, giving the record life as Kaytranada has given life to the hip-hop house hybrid genre.

It’s motion and emotion – no doubt about the first, but the second comes in the chameleon form of the mountainous journey the record takes your musical soul on. You reach dimensions beyond what you thought existed and can also visit familiar organic worlds, like that created by the tumbling strings of “Bus Ride” or the catchy shakers and headstrong keys of “Leave Me Alone”. The record pays its proper odes and respects to the founding elements of older hip hop, rap, jazz, electronic, disco, and pop.

99.9% continues to go above the and beyond, as Louis Celestin’s tracks are not only some of the best genre blending records, they are some of the best artist collaborations as well. Celestin’s talent allows him to effortlessly support each act, from highlighting Vic Mensa’s naturally intense verse with a unique and enticing rhythm or dazing out Syd’s gorgeous vocals to harmonize with the upbeat progressions. My favourites include the ingenious combinations of American jazz drummer Karriem Riggers to the more mellow harmonies of Canadian sweethearts River Tiber on the sparkling “Bus Ride”, as well as having Aluna Francis’ definitive vocals harmonize, yes harmonize, not feature, with Goldlink’s bouncy rhymes.

The only reason I could see this record staying on the short list is the very reason it deserves the Polaris. Each track’s production is distinctly Kaytranada – the sounds are more mature and diverse but it is definitely the same man who made those 2012 remixes we streamed as guilty pleasures. Perhaps that’s why it’s 99.9%. 100 brings new heights and pushes barriers farther than what we or Celestin can presently imagine. There is still room to experiment, room to play. Yet to be able to master your roots and show them off as has been done on 99.9%, is no easy feat. For all the musical intricacies of the album, the tracks remain fun, vibes and, proudly, distinctly Celestin.

The record earns the merit that every genre-bending, boundary-pushing contemporary album is rewarded, including the present Manifesto tour with Anderson .Paak and Celestin’s recent crazy Montreal homecoming at Osheaga this past summer. For an album that has raised standards for Canadian production excellence and international excellence, 99.9% is 100% deserving of the prize.

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