Iith their January 2016 EP, Cool It, Raleigh's The Hot at Nights delivered a neat crop of five songs by North Carolina musicians. Cool It wasn't a batch of covers as much as thoughtful recasts of other artists' songs, warped into new instrumental creations under the guise of "progressive jazz." Just as The Hot at Nights bent others' songs to their will on Cool It, so, too, are they capable of bending themselves into thrilling new sonic shapes. Three Kids, the band's latest full-length, is an unexpected and intriguing follow-up.
Three Kids finds the trio taking a decidedly electronic turn. It's rife with synth sounds and effects, so thoroughly that, on a casual first listen, the album almost doesn't sound like The Hot at Nights at all. Though heavily influenced by jazz, The Hot at Nights' members also dedicate their time to rock, Americana, R&B projects, and more, and those styles seep into Three Kids. The band's parts are all more or less the same—Nick Baglio still plays drums, Matt Douglas is on sax, and Chris Boerner leads with his weird and wonderful eight-string guitar—but even within that taut framework, they dissolve any limits of genre or form.
Take "Seeyinth," for example, which delivers on its phonetic title by beginning with what sounds like a synthesizer doing a loose impression of a weepy pedal steel guitar. But then Baglio comes in with a tightly controlled, almost robotic rhythm, and Douglas joins in with straightforward sax touches. "Seeyinth" is neither country nor jazz nor rock nor electronica, and yet it's all of those at once.
The records' bookends, "Magellanic Clouds Pt. 1" and "Magellanic Clouds Pt. 2," are disparate—they don't bring the record full circle as much as they serve as signposts for Three Kids' journey. The first is an oozing, heady number that makes for a gentle introduction, while the closing track is harsh and hair-raising. The twists and turns contained between the two are vast and engrossing: there's the percussion of the record's title track, which tumbles and lands like a child taking confident first steps; the punchy yet easygoing lope of "Burnoff's Bounce"; the hazy reverberating guitar that opens "The Gifts"; the simmering bath of "Gas or Electric."
With Three Kids, The Hot at Nights put their aptitude for connecting multiple musical languages—and inventing one of their own—on full display. The result is a record that's smart, bewitching, entertaining, and, above all, excellent. —Allison Hussey
This article appeared in print with the headline "Hot at Nights."