At last month’s Pitchfork Music Festival, Brainfeeder majordomo Flying Lotus dropped a whole lot of crowdpleasing into his set, treating it less like a chance to show off his considerable talents in original music and more like an opportunity to curate a live mix of kinetic, frenetic, body-moving music like one would for a BBC radio show or an issue of FACT Magazine. Many of the tracks that FlyLo shoehorned into his set were instantly recognizable, and some were just instantly recognizable as fantastic. The highpoint of that latter group was when the California producer dropped TNGHT’s “Higher Ground,” the centerpiece of their five-song self-titled EP.
“Higher Ground” is not a complex song–none of the songs on TNGHT are. Instead, it trades in complexity for immediacy. It utterly obliterates only two hooks, one the type of snatched second-long loop of female vocals that have been played with by early aughts dubstep producers, and the other a monster truck descending horn riff that elephant stomps down the stairs and onto the dance floor with surprising dexterity. It’s the best hook of any song this year that’s not “Call Me Maybe,” impossible to get out of your head or your body. The production team of Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke and Montreal’s Lunice augment their sledgehammer subtle hooks with nuclear Lex Luger rhythms: machine gun snares, relentless handclaps, and bass that would hollow out caves.
This is the template of TNGHT. Take a warped hook or two, bash it into the listeners skull with psychotic glee, add the explosive pyrotechnics of Southern rap beats, and then tear at the seams. That last bit is important, because with elements as simple as these, it would be easy for TNGHT to seem formulaic. But they, uh, aren’t. Their sense of a “hook,” aside from the rather straightforward horn stomp of “Higher Ground,” is utterly twisted. EP closer “Easy Easy” focuses melodically around a discombobulating synth that should soundtrack an animated version of Black Swan; it pirouttes in place, falls down, implodes. Meanwhile, breaking glass and cocked guns paired with wordlessly barked vocal samples form the track’s headstrong rhythm. On “Goooo,” TNGHT push a malfunctioning laser beam and a crashing chiptune riff into the forefront of a beat that tries to outdo Watch The Throne for sheer opulence. Even after multiple listens, you won’t be expecting the twists on TNGHT.
Those twists mean the straightforward stuff shines, too. TNGHT personifies the continuing symbiosis between hip-hop and dance music; each time a “Who Gon Stop Me” delves into English dubstep, a “CMYK” samples Aaliyah. TNGHT continues on that path, pulling from the trunk-rattling traditions of Mike Dean and Swizz Beatz. Even the quieter tracks — opener “Top Floor” and “Bugg’n” — traffic in Hit-Boy bass and Polow da Don rhythms. If someone from G.O.O.D. Music doesn’t get on these tracks, the Internet has failed us.
Maybe TNGHT’s rise this year shouldn’t come as any surprise. After all, HudMo and Lunice have both been doing their thing in the dance scene for year and you can see the overblown aggression of “Higher Ground” in something like “Thunder Bay” from last year’s HudMo EP and the ghosted melodies of “Top Floor” in Lunice’s remixes. But it is surprising, if only because neither producer’s previous work was as spot-on as this five-song collection. A bit like Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music LP from earlier this year, collaboration brought out the inherent strengths of each partner. TNGHT may clock in at under 16 minutes, but it’s the most satisfying quarter-hour blast you’ll hear this year.