For the most part, I feel that music awards are a nothing worth paying attention to. I find it exceptionally rare that someone honoured at an affair like the Grammys or the Junos is truly deserving of the accolade that they receive. The Polaris Music Prize, however, is often a good spot to find a great Canadian album that I may have overlooked. Selecting a true best album of the year is of course an impossible task, but I find that the Polaris steers me towards something valuable. This year was no exception. I had never heard of the produced named Kaytranada, or his debut album 99.9%, which was released earlier this year. Sure enough, the Polaris prize pointed me in the direction of a deeply talented electronic musician, and an infectious album laden with brilliant featured artists. For anyone interested in electronic music, hip-hop, or R&B, 99.9% is an absolute must-hear.
From the opening beat of 99.9%, I found myself sinking into a mesmerizing groove which never relents. As Kaytranada moves from track to track and genre to genre, he repeatedly delivers music that is equally brilliant as dance music and as something to simply sit back and absorb. His beats have a warm, inviting quality that morph and build as they perfectly emphasize the strengths of each featured artist. Jazzy chord progressions provide a mobile framework that allows Kaytranada to take his listeners on a voyage. He has away of forcing movement into your body, and if you’re not careful he may just carry you away altogether.
The interesting thing about 99.9% is that while Kaytranada is the backbone of the entire record, he pulls the attention away from himself repeatedly. More often than not, it is the featured artists that take centre stage. On an R&B track like “Got It Good”, Craig David sings a classic, infatuating love song while Kaytranada builds electronic layers and backup vocals until it feels like you are physically being lifted up by the music. “One Too Many”, one of my favourites on the record, features Phonte hitting us with a mix of singing and rap while Kaytranada creates a mild tension, giving the song an uneasy feel. Anderson .Paak helps Kaytranada slow it down on “Glowed Up”, a spacey hip-hop track which is sneaky in its rhythmic subtlety. Syd brings a seductive feel to her tune, titled “You’re the One”, a song that would fit perfectly in any club. Little Dragon closes the album by taking on a serious, urgent tone masked in soul-laden pop. This just scratches the surface of what each of these artists brings to 99.9%, and how Kaytranada is able to adapt to each unique voice.
99.9% is an album that has something for you at every turn. There isn’t a dull moment, whether you’re in the middle of a looping instrumental track or an easy and mobile R&B tune. After listening to this record over and over again, I can honestly say that Kaytranada is well deserving of the Polaris Music Prize, and his debut full-length album is easily one of the best of the year. Get it in your ears and get into the groove.