Review: Kranium - Toxic EP
by Steve Topple
After the success of 2019’s Midnight Sparks, Kranium is back with a new EP – and those sparks of creativity have been smouldering again.
Toxic, released via Atlantic Records, sees this unique and versatile artist build on the potential that was seen with his debut album – and hone his style into a more settled area. But this has been cleverly done so as to keep the sound diverse and detailed.
The EP’s opening track, Gal Policy, has clocked-up over 23m views on YouTube. But with production from Jahvy (also known as Week.Day) across the Soul Survivor Riddim, and a measured performance from Kranium, it’s worth revisiting. The ethereal yet stuttering Afrobeats-RnB vibes are endemic of Jahvy’s Tru Ambassador Entertainment’s now-recognisable sound. But what’s so good about Gal Policy is its accessibility. The multilayering of various infectious melodies across dampened and compressed horns, keys and some well-placed synths, counterbalance the more urgent percussion and fairly pacey bass, as does Kranium’s effortless vocal. This all creates a sound that is classy, glossy and radio-friendly. No wonder it was a hit.
Producer Dunwell comes on board for Through The Window (again, another previously released track). It marks an immediate change in direction for the EP: now urgent and brooding. The track is still rooted in Afrobeats sensibilities (note the synth balafon and that stuttering rim clicked snare line). But it’s perhaps the most ambiguous, almost modern Neo Soul, cut of Toxic. At times, it feels like it’s rhythmically AfroDancehall. But the chord progressions and the syncopated bass take the track into modern RnB territory. Then, its plucked-to-bowed strings (full of engineering) and choral samples swerve between EDM and Grime. Kranium is perhaps vocally at his best, displaying his considerable technical control and vocal range – and the whole thing is ingenious Neo Soul perfection. Gorgeous.
Next, and the EP’s title track produced by Staxx, is a further forward motion of Afrobeats; fitting more into AfroDancehall. The broken clave (that ‘oneeeeee-twooo-and-(three)-and-fourrr’) is dominant across the percussion, bass and synth balafon. Rasping strings alternate between multi-layered, punchy chords and smoothed-out melodies. But the juxtapositions between Toxic’s various parts are what stand out: stripped-back AfroDancehall verses; bridges that build on intensity and rhythmic complexity before the chorus delivers the peak of this crescendo – with some frantic samples added into the mix. Kranium delivers vocally and lyrically in droves – and overall, Toxic is a smartly arranged piece of AfroDancehall.
Jaxx, the producer responsible for Complexion, Settle Down and Hotel on Midnight Sparks, returns on Won’t Judge. That ‘Slow Jam for the 21st century’ sound is back, too: pensive, resonant and sensual. The percussion is curious – almost Two Step, focusing on beats two and four with heavy syncopation in between. The bass is sparse yet engineering-wise, imposing. These two combined create a restless sound, fitting of the lyrics. The inclusion of a cleverly arranged electric guitar, doing a skank which then broadens out into a melodic line, brings some rawness to the track. Kranium is particularly impressive – working around a rhythmically intricate melody with ease. Solid, compelling and building on Midnight Spark’s neo-Slow Jam vibes.
Toxic concludes with Block Traffic – the only collab of the EP, featuring Rytikal (and again already out as a single). Production comes from Dynasty Entertainment, who take the EP back to AfroDancehall territory – but with a twist. The broken clave at times loses a beat, and is focused across claps and the snare – with hi-hats sometimes filling in the beat spaces with Trap-like buzz rolls. But the bass is significantly slow and sparse, pulling back the pace from the percussion. Then, additional instrumentation moves the track into almost Toronto RnB: ambient, dampened horns run countermelodies to the main one; a guitar lilts just out of earshot, and the backing vocals are heavily laden with reverb and decay. There’s pointed use of switching the vocal and instrumental lines between left and right inputs. And the engineering across Kranium and Rytikal’s vocals is precise in terms of reverb and the occasional touch of compression. Block Traffic is superb - feeling like what the result would be if Drake did AfroDancehall; albeit Kranium, Rytikal and Dynasty Entertainment probably have done it better than he would.
Toxic is a classy, strong and musically intelligent body of work from Kranium and the team. It feels like the experimental eclecticism of Midnight Sparks has been followed through on – with the EP now settling the artist into his own, distinctive and pleasing style. But the attention to detail is such that even with this ‘home coming’, all the tracks are intricately different – and it bodes very well for a “part two” EP, out later in the year.
Kranium - Toxic EP
DIGITAL RELEASE [Atlantic Records]
Release date: 02/12/2021
01. Gal Policy
02. Throw The Window
04. Won't Judge
05. Block Traffic feat. Rytikal