A debut album is a difficult balancing act for a hyped electronic artist. Should they try to prove their conceptual individuality and aim for the pantheon of acclaimed artists like Flying Lotus? Or should they aim for pop success, working with collaborators like Disclosure? On 99.9%, Kaytranada tries to split the difference, and the result is a fun, varied, but ultimately shallow album.
The guest list for 99.9% is frankly, incredible. The album contains just about every trending R&B and indie-pop musician, from Anderson .Paak to AlunaGeorge. Just reading the tracklist, the album exudes “cool”, which winds up being both its biggest strength, and greatest weakness. As a producer, Kaytranada combines elements of old-school soul and hip-hop, with the bass and thumping drums of modern house music. It’s an incredibly listenable sound, giving the vintage stylings of the aforementioned Flying Lotus a pop sensibility, and it’s unsurprising that Kaytranada has become an in-demand producer, working with artists like Katy B and Azealia Banks. However, on 99.9%, this often leads to him deferring to his collaborators for memorable hooks, losing some of his identity in the process.
The majority of tracks on the album do admittedly, sound excellent. Glowed Up is an easy standout, with Anderson .Paak and Kaytranada showing impressive collaborative chemistry. The pounding kick-drum lends the song an abrasive edge, contrasting with the sweetly bubbling synths. When combined with .Paak’s nasal yelp, the track has a delightfully weirdness to it, and feels like no one else could have created it. Less distinctive is Together, featuring AlunaGeorge and GoldLink. The rapper puts in a good showing, with an energetic flow, but AlunaGeorge sounds overly airy on the hook, which is not helped by the anonymous-sounding house instrumental.
There are only three tracks on the album without collaborators, but they demonstrate that perhaps a true Kaytranada solo album would be a more interesting proposition. Without conventional verse-chorus structure to fall back on, he is forced to experiment a little more, such as in the evolving groove of chopped up samples on Lite Spots. This, combined with the “see what sticks” nature of the collaborations, means that whilst 99.9% is an enjoyable listen, one can’t help but wish Kaytranada has a little more confidence in his own style.