Kaleo – Surface Sounds
Icelandic rock band Kaleo had already gained recognition in their home country ahead of their record label debut album, A/B, which featured most of the tracks they are widely known for today. The group’s sound is infused with blues and folk, and tends to trickle down one of two veins: soulful garage grunge driven by rugged riffs, or (as in All The Pretty Girls) a more lyrical tranquillity, sprinkled with falsetto and acoustic delicacy. A history as childhood friends knits the backbone of a warm earthiness rooted in brotherly solidarity, and lead guitarist JJ Julius Son provides smoky vocals that are soothing, despite their strength and the shredded textures. Four years after this first release, Kaleo remain comfortably distinctive on Surface Sounds, playing in many of the same shades as they did previously.
Both opener Brother Run Fast and Free the Slave are classic Kaleo in their steady, wholesome pull and grounded bass, both simmering with foreboding amid themes of a threat “heading your way”. The latter is particularly unsettling, as it waxes and wanes between gritty builds and hearty comedowns, with lyrics such as “swinging from a tree”.
Skinny is vociferous and bubbling with contempt that is delivered in direct blows. The single adheres to typical rock’n’roll and is simply structured to sharpen a saturated anger towards the irrational expectations women endure. It even begins with the sound of cameras clicking, and a female voice uttering “smile”. Kaleo tackle society’s damaging demands with fury and painful frankness. Hey Gringo is a lighter, engaging formulation of all of the band’s stylistic influences. A little pop, with playful falsetto backed by a bright country and western guitar melody, it blends and bounces but doesn’t overbear.
There is a noticeable shift halfway through the album into softer acoustic realms. My Fair Lady stretches like one continuous vocal, guided by sleepy diction and celestial references to water and wine. I Want More whistles with birdsong, as a longing for love blossoms like the spring day it evokes. However, Backbone peaks with a heavier outburst of instrumentation, insistently repeating “where’s your backbone, brother?’” which saves the song from sliding into the languorous lilt of its forerunners.
Son continues to display vocal virtuosity, swooping between the rough edges of his guitar, and much of Kaleo’s appeal can be credited to his seductive ability to roll through the scales, throwing vocals and catching them again with ease. However, Surface Sounds does not offer much in the way of experimentation, and follows the same pathways that determined their success with A/B. Kaleo always sound like something is stirring, with a sense of elemental forces crackling beneath exterior layers, which creates a tension that continuously piques public intrigue, but this album hasn’t strayed from what audiences already know they do well.
Surface Sounds is released on 23rd April 2021. For further information or to order the album visit Kaleo’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Break My Baby here: