Nostalgia is a powerful motivator. If I could capture the essence of sentimental longing, distill it into a consumable form and feed it into my blood stream via an IV drip I would. Unlike feelings of happiness, which require increasing amounts of positive stimulus to persist, nostalgia is self-sustaining. All you need are a handful of memories.
Electronic trio Keys N Krates have successfully bottled up nostalgia on their latest album, A Beat Tape for Your Friends, and do so in more ways than one. The group has always maintained a reverence for the past — their discography pays homage to an array of artists who have served as the backdrop for countless hits. Otis Redding’s timeless vocal gyrations bound through “Uncle Otis,” the third track from Keys’ debut EP, Blackout, while the Arthur Verocai sample that introduces the group’s 2018 album, Cura, is a pivitol cut repurposed by the likes of hip-hop legends MF Doom and 9th Wonder among others.
This time around, Keys’ brand of nostalgia starts at a new locus. The pinkish orange sunset splashed across the album cover is receding over the horizon while being watched by a healthy crowd. The artwork stands out among the rest of their library, which usually features more subtle imagery with a muted color palette. Here, even before the album plays, Keys pinpoints the sort of communal energy that fuels their latest work.
As the title suggests, Keys made this work to share with others, and rightly so. Nostalgia isn’t a solitary emotion. If it were, there wouldn’t be droves of listicles gatekeeping the 1990s. On July 11, the group spent time in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto, playing their tape over a boombox to a modest crowd of devoted fans. It wasn’t quite a concert, or even a music-in-the-park stage show. Keys N Krates organized an intimate and open-air listening party for people who were, as Matisse put it, “Just gonna vibe.”
What ties the album’s imagery to its soundscapes then, is the cloudy production. A Beat Tape for Your Friends doesn’t thrive on pristine loops. Rather, it places a premium on ambient noise. “Morning Joy’s” frivolity includes (synthed) hand claps, while “Never Stop” and “Sad Piano” open with the murmurs of a crowd. Even a track like “Way I Feel” gives the samples an expansive auditorium in which the chopped-up voices can ring out.
Keys N Krates’ latest project invites listeners to make memories on which they can reflect in the future. The album seizes the season through its windswept melodies and populated measures. Summer doesn’t last forever, but Keys and Krates will make sure you don’t soon forget.