Two years ago, I wrote a piece on producer/songwriter Nok From the Future’s debut EP, “A+.” The EP had tight trap production, slick robotic-style vocals and sharp lyrics. The album could have been released today and it would be “straight fire.” However, in August of last year, Nok From the Future gifted us with “BOMBS 1,” an EP where he flexes his status as a genuine musical visionary. In this 5-song EP, Nok combines his signature trap sound with punk rock and folk sensibilities. The resulting sound is bold, endearing, and more skillfully executed than anything Kanye West has produced since 2010.
Admittedly, “BOMBS 1” comes out of the gate with an undeniable Kanye influence on the track “Real Friends.” The song has a heart-stirring chord progression, aquatic pitch-shifted vocal harmonies, and a very loud kick sample. It’s laden with rich instrumentation, from the power chord guitar chugs (presumably played by the song’s guest artist, Dylan Brady) to Nintendo-style 8-bit synth bleeps. Though experimental, the song has an undeniable pop appeal, so much that the hook sounds like something you could have sworn you’ve heard before.
Nok continues to riff on the listener’s expectation of a “banger mixtape” with the second track, “Road.” The track has all the elements of a 2016 trap banger, with one curious modification—the snare hit is on beat three. The beat takes a hot second to get used to in this sense, but the risk is worth it. Not only does “Road” stand out from all the other codeine-laced bangers produced by Metro Boomin that you hear these days, it also prepares the listener for the paradigm shift that occurs in the album’s next track, “Things Never Got Better.”
Nok’s choice of synths for the track is the first sign that “Things Never Got Better” is a game-changer. The song opens with a sound we’ve all heard before but never thought of as artistically viable—the GarageBand acoustic guitar VST. From this curiously cheesy opening the song blossoms into a heartbreaking folk-punk anthem engineered for year 2199.
After the next track, “Do,” a slow-burning, ruthless heavy hitter, Nok finishes the EP with his most immaculate track to date, “Wocky Wocky.” This song also starts with a similar GarageBand guitar VST as “Things Never got Better.” However, as opposed to the moody pop-funk fusion that occurred on that track, “Wocky Wocky” sounds like it’s backed by a cyborg version of Jimmy Buffet’s touring band. On the track organs, glockenspiels, Fender Rhodes VSTs and bongo samples fuse into a sensational rubbery texture that’s incredibly exciting. There’s something about “Wocky Wocky” that makes me feel like I’m walking down the street on a sunny day with my head down like George Michael from “Arrested Development” when he walked with his head down in that way that obviously was a reference to Charlie Brown. Yet, in this feeling of dejection there’s some sort of whimsical glee mixed in that makes the feeling enjoyable. In this sense, on “Wocky Wocky,” Nok has achieved the most profound purpose that music can serve: remind us what it feels like to be human.
The difference between Nok from the Future and Kanye West is that Nok doesn’t get caught up in his own self hype. While Kanye’s creativity is unparalleled, Nok takes that level of creativity and reigns it in with better mixing and more intricate and developed song structures. In this sense, Nok isn’t just from the Future, he is the Future and I have no qualms calling him the best artist alive right now. While he has the epic level of creativity that Kanye West does, he goes an extra step in fusing together everything that is music and culture today – cheap VSTs, actual physical instruments that don’t just exist on a screen, the need for quick pop song structures to cater to an increasingly short human attention span—with a completeness that had not yet been achieved before this release. In these trying times, that completeness equates to the feeling of being able to breathe again. That’s why Nok doesn’t need to put himself on a pedestal—he’s simply giving us what’s been there the whole time, waiting to be constructed into the truth of today.
So take a load off, turn off the social media, and listen to “BOMBS1.” You might be able to breathe again after a couple of listens.