INSTINCTS (EP) Khushi
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- 1Levelling (feat. Swavay)03:02
- 2Hotter Than Your Instincts03:36
- 3Blame Game04:07
- 4I Know02:34
Info for INSTINCTS (EP)
The U.K.-born, L.A.-based singer, songwriter, and producer Khushi didn’t foresee laying down the foundation of his new EP, INSTINCTS, in just one week. After all, his last album, Strange Seasons, took him 10 years to make. It was largely thanks to James Blake — a friend and early supporter — volunteering to mix the LP that those songs ever saw the light of day. But when they finally arrived, in January 2020, they introduced a singular talent of rare depth and sensitivity, with a pensive, darkly hued sound grounded in stately piano and streaked with silvery electronic details. Just months later, on INSTINCTS, Khushi flips the script. If Strange Seasons was a mood-lit portrait of the artist in close-up, the EP’s four tracks are wide-angled snapshots capturing multiple perspectives on his creativity: hushed balladry, woozy electro-funk, slow-motion bedroom burners, and even straight-up party jams. “It’s a microcosm of me,” says Khushi, “four different sides of me as an artist.”
Khushi (pronounced “cushy,” a nickname given to him by his mother that means “happiness” in Hindi) and his frequent collaborator Josh Stadlen recorded three of the EP’s four tracks at Blake’s home studio while Blake was out of town for a week. It was basically a dare. “We set ourselves a challenge and didn’t tell James what we were doing,” Khushi says. “We wanted it to be a surprise, for him to get back and us be like, ‘Hey, it took a decade last time, but we’ve got new music and it only took a week.’” Khushi and Stadlen have played together in various outfits since they were teenagers (see electro trio Strong Asian Mothers). Typically, Stadlen will lay down a beat or a chord progression, leaving Khushi to add a melody, write lyrics, and use his gift for structure to massage it all into a song. This time, with the house keys in hand and the clock ticking, the idea was to let the ideas roll straight onto tape and let nothing get in the way — no doubts or second-guessing, no return to the paralysis of perfectionism.
It worked. At the end of their stay, they had eight songs in the bag. “Half were not fit for human consumption,” Khushi laughs. “But it was liberating. The EP’s ‘I Know,’ ‘Levelling,’ and ‘Hotter Than Your Instincts’ all came out of that week.” Combined with “Blame Game,” they reveal an artist who spans the indie, electronic, and R&B worlds with rare agility.
In mood and tone, the spare “I Know” hews closest to the sound of Strange Seasons, but there’s a newfound maturity to Khushi’s writing. With its gentle mix of dark and light, the song was inspired by trying to help friends in their mental-health struggles. “It’s an attempt to offer solace to people in their darkest moments and say, ‘I can’t fix this, but I see you and I am here for you,’” Khushi says. Though each verse is addressed to a different person in his life, he didn’t set out to write specifically about the theme. “When I’ve tried to write about a certain topic, it comes out contrived. But if I listen to music and start singing and letting the words come, then meaning emerges. At first I’m not sure what the song is about. It’s almost like trusting that your subconscious has a plan that your conscious mind isn’t fully aware of.”
It’s a fresh approach for Khushi, who admits to “going back and forth a billion times” over every minute detail in the past. In fact, he says, “Levelling” began as a “complete stream of consciousness.” He wrote the song at the end of the week, at a point when he’d gotten tired of typical verse/chorus structures: “I just wanted to let this thing fly out of me.” And yet, the song unspools like a daydream, dripping Beach Boys melodies over a crisp machine beat as Atlanta MC SwaVay punctuates the flow. “James came in at the last minute, right before I was about to send it to mix, and said he wanted to hear a version with a bit more structure and an attempt at a chorus,” says Khushi. It was only fair, since Blake brought him onboard to help structure the songs on 2019’s Assume Form. Khushi’s final mix oscillates between free-flowing and grounded, whereas “Hotter Than Your Instincts” is earthier still, anchored by a chest-thumpingly deep-funk bass line and what might be Khushi’s sultriest performance yet, switching between his habitual falsetto and a gravelly, vocal-fried baritone.
The lone song to predate the week-long spontaneous session is “Blame Game,” an old tune that lay dormant until Blake’s partner Jameela Jamil encouraged Khushi to dust it off. “The first time I sent her the demo, she said she listened to it 20 times straight on the plane,” he recalls. “She just kept encouraging us to finish it.” It’s easy to see why: With bright, blocky keys laid over a drum break blessed with Dilla’s sense of swing, the song has a bombastic, bouncy energy never before heard in Khushi’s solo output. If the trunk-rattling “Hotter Than Your Instincts” subliminally channels OutKast, the melodic twists and turns of “Blame Game” have an almost Beatlesque energy. “Well, those are two of my biggest influences,” laughs Khushi. Leave it to him to find a link within that odd pairing: “Both of their lyrics can be quite madcap and surreal, but somehow they still feel like they come from a true place.”
Part of the joy of Khushi’s INSTINCTS is the obvious pleasure it takes in accessing that truth, in teasing out the links between deep emotion and surrealistic play. Ultimately, every swung drum beat and fanciful grace note is a declaration of musical freedom. “I don't ever want people to think of me in a particular box,” says Khushi. “My creative instincts and influences fall out in many different ways, and I want to be free to explore that.” Ultimately, that’s what the title of this EP — four first-thought-best-thought flashes of inspiration — really signifies. “It’s about the freedom to follow through on your instincts, wherever they may lead you.”
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