The popularity of Kaytranada's "If" edit is easy to understand. It took a bubbly and familiar song and gave it a retro makeover, with a killer bassline and a subdued charm that felt assured for a rookie producer. And it wasn't a fluke: though the 23-year-old producer hasn't had any comparable hits, his music has only grown richer and more complex. Celestin makes a warm mix of classic hip-hop, disco and soul, and the smoothness of it all feels like an antidote to the EDM stars he often plays alongside. That style comes to a head on 99.9%, Celestin's long-awaited debut album for XL, where he gears his classicist tendencies more towards head-nodding songs than dance floor fodder.
"I barely buy any records that are made past, like, 1989," Celestin said in a recent (and very personal) interview. While this line doesn't tell the whole story, that spirit defines 99.9%, which feels largely removed from current trends. It begins with "Track Uno," five minutes of dusty disco looping, before moving through jazzy backpacker hip-hop ("Bus Ride" and the Onra-esque "One Too Many"), AM gold soul ("Glowed Up," with the croaky refrains of Anderson.Paak) and Madlib-esque sample flipping ("Despite The Weather"). "Drive Me Crazy," a slick collaboration with rapper Vic Mensa, proves that Celestin can sound more contemporary, even as he stays true to his style with a corny guitar solo.
Maybe that seems a bit all over the place, but 99.9% is held together by Celestin's sense of calm. His music, no matter the style, is effortless and relaxed—even if it doesn't exactly jump out at you, it has a way of pulling you into its orbit. Celestin's vocal tracks have the same effect. AlunaGeorge and Goldlink sound at home on the slinky "Together," which is both radio-friendly and old-fashioned, like neo-soul as filtered through Disclosure. The Craig David collaboration "Got It Good" touches on the sweeter strains of '90s R&B without resorting to nostalgia, putting David's knack for wordy, overstuffed measures to good work.
As attractive as Celestin's chilled-out demeanour is, it also makes the album feel longer than the hour it takes up. The issue isn't helped by generic tracks like "One Too Many" and "You're The One," which feature uninspiring vocalists set to polished beats scrubbed of Celestin's personality. They're serviceable but overtly primed for radio—the rare instances of the producer taking a back seat to his collaborators. Elsewhere, Celestin's gritty loops and diced samples reign supreme, whether he's working with an instrumental group like BADBADNOTGOOD or providing a cleverly sparse backdrop for Toronto's River Tiber. On closer "Bullets," he teams up with Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano, whose smoky voice carries a personality that complements Celestin's own.
For a debut album from such a young artist, 99.9% is remarkably self-assured. It sets up Celestin as someone carving out his niche. He's a young artist with diverse taste and a wide knowledge of records, and the raw talent to work those influences into a unique sound.
Wed / 18 May 2016
01. Track Uno
02. Bus Ride feat. Karriem Riggins & River Tiber
03. Got It Good feat. Craig David
04. Together feat. AlunaGeorge & GoldLink
05. Drive Me Crazy feat. Vic Mensa
06. Weight Off feat. BADBADNOTGOOD
07. One Too Many feat. Phonte
08. Despite The Weather
09. Glowed Up feat. Anderson.Paak
10. Breakdance Lesson N.1
11. You're The One feat. Syd
12. Vivid Dreams feat. River Tiber
13. Lite Spots
14. Leave Me Alone feat. Shay Lia
15. Bullets feat. Little Dragon