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 Matt O'Neill

NAPT – Emotion EP (Red Sugar)

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NAPT - Emotion EP (Red Sugar)

by Matt O’Neill

I was a touch worried about this release.

NAPT are quite an important act to me. I would, without any fear of exaggeration, describe them as the greatest dancefloor-oriented production outfit in the world today. While occasionally dogged by poorly realised collaborations or leftfield bootlegs, the pair have managed to deliver a stone-cold classic with practically every original production since 2006’s Contrast Pt 1. Each of those productions has showcased a complexity, inventiveness and precision well beyond what one would deem necessary of a dancefloor-driven work. There is no other outfit in the world that I could name who can make music of such generic, lowest common denominator appeal with so much incredibly weird shit in it.

My go-to example has always been ‘Gotta Have More Cowbell’. The debut production of the London pair’s four-part N-Funk series, ‘Cowbell’ is anchored by samples from the famous Will Ferrell/Christopher Walken sketch and grooves around for approximately seven minutes. It is, upon first listen, your typically disposable sample-driven dancefloor production.

Over the course of those seven minutes, though, a new idea is introduced nearly every 30 seconds. There are new beats, new hooks, new samples, different structures, reworked musical phrases, entirely new sections – but it’s so brilliantly constructed that you barely so much as notice those developments. It just sounds like club music. I think that is an incredible feat – and it’s one they pull off all the time.

That said – I was very much worried they were going to screw the pooch with this one. Part of it was simple cynicism – no act can maintain a winning streak indefinitely – but there were hints within the pair’s own catalogue that suggested an imminent downfall as well. Over the past year, NAPT have been moving closer and closer to more conventional, mainstream work and I was concerned this would be the final swandive into laziness and mediocrity.

The final instalment of their N-Funk series (2010’s ‘Fuck Critics’/‘Narcotics’) was significantly more predictable and straightforward than any of their previous productions, their collaboration with UK rapper Bashy (sampling the pair’s own eight-minute production) was atypically lazy in its construction and the samples of this EP sounded equally contrived. It sounded like NAPT were about to, for wont of a less hackneyed term, ‘sell out’.

Have they? I don’t actually know. This is certainly different from their previous releases. Clocking in at five and four minutes respectively, ‘Emotion Pt 1’ and ‘Emotion Pt 2’ are easily among the shortest productions the pair have ever released. Both tracks actually sound like distilled works – NAPT doing away with their usually lengthy stretches of repetition and introductions in favour of more immediate structures.

Still, you’d be hard-pressed to call either work generic. The diva vocal sample employed by both cuts is a tad dated but the stripped-back rhythms and crunching basslines are more wilfully aggressive than anything NAPT have presented in a couple of years and there’s still plenty of weird production flourishes lurking in the mixes of both tracks. The more brutal ‘Emotion Pt 2’, in particular, is filled with strange touches.

What one actually hears on the ‘Emotion’ EP is not streamlining and commercialisation as much as experimentation and desperation. NAPT seem to have grown tired of experimenting with structure and layers and have instead decided to try and create something novel by messing with the fundamental sounds of their work. An obvious example would be the refrain of ‘Emotion Pt 2’ – actually bolstered by a kinetic, rattling snare pattern more typical of warehouse than breaks or electro.

The best example, though, is the pair’s bizarre collaboration with dubstep producer Lucian X. Closing the EP, ‘Boca Boca’ is ostensibly NAPT tackling dubstep but it doesn’t really sit comfortably in those confines. While delivered in standard dubstep half-time, the production’s mix of mangled, repitched vocals, nocturnal synth lines and kinetic rhythms actually sounds more like the fucked up, grimey post-crunk rave-ups of UK’s Night Slugs collective than anything overtly dubstep.

Just because NAPT haven’t sold-out, however, doesn’t mean Emotion is another slam-dunk for the duo. In addition to demonstrating NAPT’s experimental bent, ‘Boca Boca’ also showcases the potential shortcomings of the pair’s new set of approaches. NAPT have yet to really master the art of more direct structures and, at times, tracks can sound like pastiches. ‘Boca Boca’ feels somewhat like four or five ideas glued together and so does ‘Emotion Pt 1’.

So – does this mean my worry was justified? Is this this the final end of NAPT’s winning streak?

I don’t even know. Given that this release was intended to launch NAPT’s new label Red Sugar Records, one can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by its uneven nature – but it’d be dishonest to claim this release is in any way genuinely substandard. It does make me want to dance. I suppose that’s a tick on some level.

Eh, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say it’s good. They’ve earned that, at least.

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