Keys N Krates are warmer and more soulful than their contemporaries on Cura

On their debut album, the Toronto trio channel retro influences into a modern and cohesive mix of hip-hop and electronic production


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Since forming a decade ago, Keys N Krates have become known for making electronic music that’s more soulful and venturesome than many of their big-room bass-friendly contemporaries. 

Though signed to EDM kingpin Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak Records, the Toronto trio – drummer Adam Tune, keyboardist David Matisse and turntablist Jr. Flo – proudly wear their love of hip-hop production on their sleeves. Built on earth-swallowing 808s and pitched-up vocals, early singles Dum Dee Dum, from 2013, and Keep It 100, from 2014, frequently found their way onto YouTube trap playlists, and the group became high-energy festival mainstays and would later pick up a Juno for their 2016 Katy B-assisted hit Save Me

Cura, their first full-length album, is their warmest, most cohesive effort to date, drawing on myriad retro influences while still sounding completely modern. Triumphant opener Inicio masterfully chops up horns from 70s Brazilian experimentalist Arthur Verocai’s Na Boca Da Sol, adding strings and stabbing bass to create a frenetic dance-floor burner. Do What U Do channels beat-makers like J Dilla and DJ Premier via sun-warped vocal samples and boom-bap drums, while Something Wonderful glows with harp melodies and bright synths. 

It’s mellower than previous releases, but long-time fans will appreciate the aptly titled instrumental Flute Loop (featuring frequent collaborator Ouici), which applies KNK’s trap sensibilities to de rigueur flute-rap.

Rather than featuring boldface artists, the record has a handful of carefully chosen guest spots that feel right at home in the trio’s technicolour world. The most recognizable name is Toronto rapper and singer Tory Lanez (no stranger to electronic collaborations himself), who lends his soulful croon to the string-laden Music To My Ears. New Orleans R&B newcomer Ambré Perkins effortlessly glides over slowed disco grooves on Glitter, and My Night sees New Jersey MC 070 Shake starkly cutting through a layered, drifting beat. 

Clocking in at an economical 26 minutes, Cura leaves listeners wanting more and proves Keys N Krates still have plenty of ideas worth exploring.

Top track: Do What U Do

Keys N Krates play the Danforth Music Hall on May 11. See listing.

music@nowtoronto.com | @Max_Mertens

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