Album Review: Kranium - Midnight Sparks
by Steve Topple
It may be nearly Christmas, but Kranium’s latest full album is determined to not let you forget summer 2019. He’s back with a bang, and this time the sparks of creativity are literally smouldering.
Midnight Sparks from Atlantic Records/Warner Music Group is a cleverly managed fleshing out of Kranium as an artist. It’s an album with Afrobeats/Afrowave and Dancehall in its soul. It has running musical themes throughout which hint at something else. But it also tries not be too experimental, which in this instance works in Kranium’s favour.
Overall, Midnight Sparks firms up his unique sound. Ambient production effects and some dubby synths litter the album, giving consistency to what is a blem of musical genres and influences.
Afrobeats/Afrowave features heavily and often obviously. From the straight-up RnB-mash up In Charge, to Flirtin, with its strong two-step, Kranium takes 2019’s biggest sound and often turns it on its head, but not so far that the vibe is lost.
Dancehall is nodded to throughout, although not always obviously. In Just The Style (featuring Alkaline), the bass is on a traditional three beat riff. But it’s used once in a bar, instead of the Dancehall-standard twice. It works well with the Afrobeats-inspired percussive arrangement. And amid Kranium and Alkaline’s impressively complex vocal rhythms, blink and you’d miss this Dancehall reference.
But Kranium is actually at his best when he breaks out of the boxes many people might put him into.
Take Money In The Bank with UK artist AJ Tracey. It’s a brilliantly eclectic track. A recognisable Grime bass line makes the actually fairly pacey BPM feel half the time. It’s is accompanied by a distinctly Trap/Drill offbeat and scattered drum line. Cow bells take the track into Afrobeats territory, and the whole package feels distinctly Toronto-esque: a dark, brooding ambient RnB affair.
Kranium moves into Drake’s Toronto territory again, this time with Mahalia, on Proud – now with an offbeat two-step dominant drum line. Meanwhile, Talkin, with the impossible to categorise PJ, takes us there as well. A Grime bass line (again, making the pace feel slower than it is) winds in and out of Afrobeats percussion. Two-step dominates the drums, which build in layers as Talkin progresses.
Hotel, featuring the ever-reliable Ty Dolla $ign and Burna Boy, moves us off somewhere else. The distorted kick points to Trap, but there is a real emphasis on the offbeat throughout the track: from the chord changes coming just after the 4th beat, to a near one drop-meets-two step percussion line. But then, the bass is on a lick starting on the 3rd beat and extending into the next bar. These unnervingly intricate rhythmic arrangements make Hotel the edgy, innovative Kranium at his best.
But there are two tracks which are perhaps the album’s most compelling works: Complexion, a delicious 2019 reimagining of a Slow Jam, and Confessions, which is a Soul/Afrobeats hybrid. They show Kranium is equally at home on smoother, vocally challenging RnB tracks as he is on floor fillers. It’s these which truly allow his voice to shine, showcasing the controlled light and shade he’s capable of. They also display the range of his voice, being able to comfortably move between a rounded baritone, a soaring tenor and a flexible falsetto.
The album’s production is inspired and of top quality. With names such as the versatile Jaxx (Complexion, Settle Down and Hotel), to the UK’s Sketch (Money In The Bank, In Charge) and Amish Patel (aka ADP, My Way), via Grammy winner Bongo (Talkin), this element sets Midnight Sparks ahead of many of Kranium’s contemporaries. It’s also worth noting that the UK Grime/Rap scene is a heavy influencer on the album, from the vibe, to collabs and producers.
Kranium explores many themes on Midnight Sparks. From sex, love and relationships to industry expectations and public perceptions of him via maternal relationships, he has a way, lyrically, of being able to communicate well with whoever the audience is. His wicked and wry sense of humour also shines.
Moreover, much like Busy Signal and Jahmiel, he’s deftly managed to tread that difficult tightrope between Afrobeats/Dancehall music to brukkout to and tracks which have messages to convey, but admittedly leaning towards the former. Perhaps the standouts from the more thoughtful vibes are Confessions, My Way and Settle Down. They show a vulnerability to Kranium that’s hidden behind some of the slacker, yet humorous, bangers. This emotional peaking and troughing, like the music, makes the album a fully rounded project.
Midnight Sparks is Kranium at his very best. Vocally dextrous and intricate, musically ingenious without being pretentious and bang on trend, the album serves to give a fully rounded picture of this versatile artist. But, when he strays into more unknown territory, Midnight Sparks gives tantalising glimpses of where Kranium could potentially go next.
Kranium - Midnight Sparks
DIGITAL RELEASE [Atlantic Records]
Release date: 12/06/2019
02. My Way
03. Money In The Bank feat. AJ Tracey
04. Talking feat. PJ
06. In Charge
07. So Me Move
08. Just The Style feat. Alkaline
09. Hotel feat. Ty Dolla $ign & Burna Boy
11. Proud feat. Mahalia
12. Settle Down