A lot of pressure comes with the creation and release of remixes – this is especially true when the remixes originate from near-perfect bangers that shouldn’t be chopped up, rehashed or even gently tapped. So when UK-based electro-funk artist NAO announced she’d be dropping a remixes EP that featured five tracks from her debut album For All We Know (7/29/17 via Little Tokyo Recordings), it almost felt like she was inadvertently setting ears up for disappointment.
The new project was something she was manifestly giddy about, and in the few weeks leading up to the Feb. 9 release of For All We Know – The Remixes, NAO seemed to promote the EP as a gift for her appreciative listeners, the ones who’d kept her first full-length on loop since last summer. Still, it was hard to believe that anything closely related to, but simply not FAWK could compare to its degree of glory that encompassed nothing short of NAO’s underrated caliber. From production to performance, the record – an amalgamation of synthpop, soul and electronica – was one of the best of 2016, deserving more acclaim than the heaping sum it’d already been given. FAWK was scarily satisfying, and it was rather unsatisfying, knowing that a handful of producers might ruin some of the LP’s strongest gems – even if those producers included FAWK collaborator LOXE (“Give Me a Little” and “Adore You”) and Mura Masa, whose hit 2015 single “Lovesick” blessed thousands with NAO’s distinct, pixie-like inflection.
For All We Know – The Remixes is out today, and most of its contents are, as expected, meager shadows of the original album’s “wonky funk,” ten-out-of-ten splendor – but this is not to say that the EP is bad. Although a vast majority of the songs can be properly labeled as mere “background music,” each producer has done their job of contributing to a project that epitomizes both the familiarity and novelty that every collection of remixes should have. And let’s not forget that a smaller, more precious minority complements every subpar majority.
Indeed, sandwiched in the very middle of FAWK – The Remixes is a deliciously hypnotic edit delivered by KAYTRANADA, the Haitian-Canadian producer that, like NAO, debuted to acclaim in 2016 with his full-length 99.9% (5/6/16 via XL Recordings). Melomaniacs invested in alternative R&B and electronica long knew that a collaboration between NAO and Kaytra was certain; not only do they both confidently stride the tightrope between electronic music and funk, but they do it well. Hence, it only makes sense that Kaytra’s flip of “Get to Know Ya” is the EP’s best five minutes. And if this new cut is just a preview of what the artists can do when minimally creating together, then it’s thrilling to think about the two collaborating on material from start to finish.
You call me to tell me what’s up with you
We’re living on top of the world it seems
Way up here in a higher place
What’s our time? Are you coming over?
Listen: “Get to Know You” (Kaytranada Flip) – NAO
Within the track’s first seconds, it’s obvious that this remix is wholly Kaytranada’s: the bass guitar of the original “Get to Know Ya” is exchanged for 808s, and no longer does analog noise crackle and pop underneath fluttery vocals. With these alterations, listeners are immediately transferred into a world disparate from the blue- and green-tinted atmosphere painted on FAWK, where NAO’s fascination with dreams and romantic transcendence triumphed, or at least cleverly disguised, sentiments of frenzied lust. On Kaytra’s edit, the original narrative – meeting someone with a magnetic, addictive presence – is retold, but with darker connotations. Suddenly the atmosphere is manifestly sensual, and listeners can effortlessly imagine themselves late at night on a Saturday, doing one of two things: eyeing someone striking from across the club, or closely swaying with them on the dance floor. In both scenarios, flashing lights glitter upon a sea of energized bodies, and this specific dance track appropriately booms overhead.
Like a fire, you’re burning me up
Cause we’re gonna float up to
this feeling of a higher place
It’s our world / It’s our world
And maybe we can hold onto, oh
These clouds that I keep falling through
Something especially notable about Kaytranada’s remix of “Get to Know Ya” is the way it reflects his own sensibilities without losing sight of NAO’s lyricism. While the edit symbolizes a nuanced intimacy unexplored in the original cut, it never eliminates entire verses, or even unique lines. Far too often, it seems as if musicians interpret the conceptual remix as an opportunity to abuse a digital audio workstation’s arsenal of tools – then stemming from that directionless experimentation is not only an obnoxiously spastic track, but lyrics butchered to insignificance. Yet, not once does Kaytra give into any overproduction temptations on “Get to Know Ya.” Instead, he uses NAO’s words to his advantage by subtly building a melody that parallels the second verse’s strongest line, “Cause we’re gonna float up to this feeling of a higher place.” And as the up-tempo beat increases in volume before “falling through” the start of the second chorus, the cut’s newfangled production aligns with NAO’s imagery.
Just wanna get to know ya
Just wanna get to know ya
Cause you don’t even know me
Just wanna get to know ya
After spending a few seconds in heaven, Kaytranada’s remix of “Get to Know Ya” returns to earth with a mesmerizing chorus that takes listeners back to the nightclub dance floor. As a series of “so call me, tell me what’s up” phrases come to an end, deep synths wind in and out of rhythmic hand drumming. Soon after, it almost sounds as though NAO is singing at a slower pace than in the original track. But this is just one of Kaytra’s powerful sonic illusions; her vocals aren’t manipulated until the chorus begins its expansion into a lush landscape of handclaps, familiar 808s and pseudo-trumpets that frequented a few of the best female vocalist-led tracks on 99.9%, like “Bullets” with Little Dragon or Syd’s “You’re the One.” And as Kaytra’s luxuriously suave instrumental break comes to an end, fragments of NAO’s whispers sprinkle the track’s conclusion. It’s in these moments that listeners are reminded of the collaborative potential the duo possesses; it’s in these moments that listeners are beckoned to continue replaying “Get to Know Ya” until an announcement of that extremely anticipated collaboration is made.
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cover: Kaytranada © Liam McCrae
:: NAO 2017 Tour Dates ::
4/16 – Indio, CA – Coachella
4/20 – San Francisco, CA – The Regency
4/23 – Indio, CA – Coachella
4/26 – Austin, TX – Antones
4/27 – Houston, TX – Warehouse Live Studio
4/29 – Durham, NC – Art of Cool Festival
5/1 – Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
5/2 – Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge
5/4 – Toronto, ON – The Phoenix
5/5 – New York, NY – Brooklyn Steel