KAYTRANADA’s 5-track EP ‘NOTHIN ON U / CHANCES’ showcases producer’s singular beatmaking

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

KAYTRANADA is one of those artists who immediately elevates a song — the type of producer who, while maintaining a distinct and virtuosic style, is also able to make another artist shine. In his latest EP release, NOTHIN COMPARES TO U / CHANCES, the Montreal-based artist succeeds in both making the featured vocalists shine and showcasing his own talents as an intricate beatmaker.

This is a short release, with only five tracks, the first four of them going directly from the lyric versions to their instrumental counterparts. But rather than becoming repetitive, as the songs end and immediately go into their corresponding instrumental track, rather than being untethered from the ground of the song — the beats float into space, lifting away from their lyrics but not lacking in their absence.

The parallelism emerges between tracks one and two, “NOTHIN LIKE U” and “NOTHIN LIKE U (instrumental).” The lyric version features Ty Dolla Sign with a smooth flow tenderly refracted in the folds of KAYTRANADA’s glittering synths and low, pulsing 808s. With notes held just long enough to be lilting, Ty Dolla Sign imbues fairly simple lyrics with a genuine sense of longing. In a neat three verses, lines like “Take your time, baby, don’t rush it / Let’s stop talking about the money / When we can be kissing and fucking” are warm and earthy additions to the DJ’s spacey beats.

While pairing an instrumental immediately next to its lyrical twin could be monotonous, in KAYTRANADA’s hands it serves as a continuation of the atmosphere of the track, giving each version the chance to be heard for its respective merits. The instrumental spins off of its previous iteration, allowing for a more careful rendering of KAYTRANADA’s musical style. Outside of the bounds of lyrics, the beats take on a new life, with smaller instrumental motifs emerging from the soundscape, heightened in the absence of a vocal.

This duality is also highlighted in the outros of those first two tracks, in a very precise and subtle moment of contrast. In its final moments, the first closes out with low vocal riffs from Ty Dolla Sign, providing a low pulse of rhythm interwoven with the snares and other instruments. In the second version at this point, a light synth beat instead comes to the forefront, a sparkling cluster of notes that takes you to the end of the track. These twin tracks shine as mirror images, finding new depths in their similarities and differences.

“CHANCES” and “CHANCES (instrumental)” are the second set of paired tracks on the EP, and function in a similar and mutually elevating way. “CHANCES” features Shay Lia as vocalist, with harmonies that complement this more mellow, drumbeat-driven track. KAYTRANADA and Shay Lia have previously collaborated, including on his debut album 99.9% with track “LEAVE ME ALONE.”

On the former track, Shay Lia is highlighted with a declaration of self-empowerment. In the track’s opening lines, she immediately establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with: “It’s hard to see a type of girl like me / The stars truly, they want me to succeed.” It’s a groovy track, and backed by strong vocals, harmonies and lyricism.

The following “CHANCES (instrumental)” is then a continuation of the groove, finding dynamism here not in the layered harmonies but in the deeper interiors of the track’s production. Again, smaller motifs emerge, such as the faint whoops and yells that are incorporated as rhythmic elements throughout the track. KAYTRANADA is known for his looping, percussive style and for achieving unique sounds through custom-made synths — and both of these signatures are present on this track, as well as on the rest of the EP.

“IT WAS MEANT 2 B,” the final track, is a departure from the paired structure of the rest of the EP. Also absent from the EP’s title, it serves as a heady finale to the previous tracks — a shadowy, mysterious moon orbiting the rest of the EP. The track is solely instrumental, a final statement of KAYTRANADA’s beat-making ability. A deeper bass line threads this song together, crescendoing into an eruption of synths for a brief moment before fading quickly into quiet.

Though this is a concise release, KAYTRANADA achieves a tricky balance; he makes both lyrics and beats stand to the forefront. These five tracks succeed in this, creating a small world of layered sound unto themselves. Even as the last notes play out, the beats will still be spinning through your mind — endlessly catchy and infinitely interesting.

Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].