Album Review: Kaleo – A/B

Published On June 20, 2016 | By Michael Smith | Albums, Music

Kaleo’s A/B may seem like a debut album, but don’t let the initial impression fool you. They originally debuted in their home country Iceland, gaining local recognition with their music and self-titled album. Eighteen million Spotify streams later, they signed with Atlantic Records and found themselves with a top 9 spot on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart and a number of television tie-ins. If their success in Iceland didn’t tell you there was something special about Kaleo, let their rising international success do the work for you; this is a debut that’s long overdue and very worthy of your attention.

Kaleo ABWith blues and folk serving as the stylistic backbone of Kaleo as a band, A/B’s two halves make perfect sense. Opening with the upbeat blues rock sound of No Good and the slower burn of Way Down We Go, they set a good impression; their songs are simple, but extremely effective, and with the fittingly rough and extremely pleasant vocals of JJ Julius Son supporting them, they convey all that they need to without the need for anything extra. While the predominantly bluesy songs on the first half are all extremely solid, the clear stand-out is Broken Bones: going back to a truly classic roots style of blues music, taking on the guise of a work song to convey an entirely different mood to the opening tracks, it feels raw and provides a powerful contrast to the surrounding tracks.

When the album reaches its sixth track, gears begin to shift. All The Pretty Girls, perhaps their most popular and well known track, takes the album into its folk half, where slower songs and ballads dominate the landscape. All The Pretty Girls’ acoustic lilt is easily the highlight of the album with its falsetto vocals and eventual country-style guitars, percussion and strings giving the song a winning formula that makes just as strong an introduction for the second half as No Good did for the first. Their Icelandic roots are also explored on Vor í Vaglaskógi, featuring an even simpler arrangement of guitar and strings as Son sings over it in their native tongue. While the second half does feature the oddball—yet still extremely enjoyable—country song Automobile that feels somewhat out of place, it manages to carry itself just as well as the first half.

While it’s easy to pinpoint Broken Bones and All The Pretty Girls as the album’s best tracks, there’s no denying that A/B is an extremely strong album from start to finish. Kaleo have a sound that’s both familiar yet also melds to their personal identity perfectly, and aside from the standouts each track is as strong as that which came before it. It’s a short yet sweet affair, one that could even have used a few more tracks yet carries itself well and feels complete regardless. For a debut album, you can’t ask for much better, even if it isn’t exactly their first debut. Kaleo are definitely a band worth watching out for as their global presence continues to expand.

4 / 5 stars     

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