Artist You Should Know: Kaleo
Music has long showed that geography has no say in setting it's limitations. There have always been pockets that produce the mass of talent, like England during the 60’s or the American West during the 90’s. Then you have unlikely spots like Minneapolis producing a legend like Prince or Motor City producing Mo Town. Could the next great band or music scene come out of Iceland?
Since arriving on the scene in 2012, Kaleo has amassed a circus of hype in anticipation for their commercial debut. In their first two years, their circulation was largely restricted to Iceland with their first single Vor i Vaglaskogi off the EP Glass House, but in 2014 they broke onto the music scene with the hit All the Pretty Girls. 2015 welcomed them into the mainstream, when they signed with Atlantic records; subsequently releasing the smash hit Way Down We Go. It received sparse radio play, but recently has filled in commercial spots on popular TV shows Orange is the New Black and Suits, as well as the soundtrack of the video game FIFA 16. While their musical prowess was undeniable, the maintained a relatively low profile in the music world until recently. Both aforementioned singles have slowly climbed the Alternative charts, reaching #9 and #8 respectively. Kaleo’s introduction to the festival circuit only increased their following, with stops at Sasquatch!, Hangout, and Firefly Music Festival. On June 10th, Kaleo dropped their US debut A/B, a full-length release, their first since signing with Atlantic. It’s available on streaming services as well as a physical copies on CD. Below you’ll find the music videos for each of their singles, showing their diverse and brilliant musical style.
Way Down We Go: This video release is the standout of the album. The location of the video and recording is stunning, as the backdrop is the Icelandic volcano Prihnukagigur. ‘Backdrop’ is perhaps the wrong word, as the band records themselves inside the volcano itself. The play of the volcano is not only for the unique location but the affect it has on the live recording’s acoustics. The vocals of front man JJ Julius Son are extremely echoed and drawn out from the expanse space of the cave, adding to an already emphatic talent. Son’s voice is the main draw of Kaleo, being very hard to pin down and compare. As he cries out in this video, with his fogged breath floating up, his vibrato is reminiscent of many artists. Hipsters could relate it to Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons, while metal fans reminisce of Aaron Lewis of Staind. A more contemporary comparison in the same Alternative genre would be Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon, however doing so would be an injustice to JJ Julius Son’s unique gift. His range is far greater than these other artists, and he utilizes it more in the videos below.
All The Pretty Girls: On this track, Son’s full vocal range comes to fruition. He’s not just a rustic voiced rocker. He has the ability to delve into new genres with simply the pitch of his voice. When he chooses to go lower on songs like Way Down We Go, the band leans more toward the Alternative-Rock genre. When he goes high pitched, the identity of the band blossoms into something entirely different. It’s a curious blend is similar to Adam Levine’s falsetto with a backing of an indie, folk group like Of Monsters and Men or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
The video itself depicts a group of young men and women romping back and forth on an apparent night out. Their playful demeanor echoes the lyrics of the song, which tells of a man who reminisces over a lost love. Kaleo is no doubt talented, but at the same turn, are equally gifted at their ability to tell a story within their lyrics.
I Can’t Go On Without You: Last but not least is the visually stirring video for I Can’t Go On Without You. The video, done in black and white, shows the diverse nature the band likes to exemplify. They don’t put out material to look commercial or mainstream. It’s not the same bubble gum singles that’s put out by most artists. Each video is produced by Icelandic based production and is unique in it’s own way. There’s no extensive drama done by actors. It instead depicts the musicians playing in an old church that appears abandoned in a vast clearing of snow. The emotion is echoed in not only their demeanor but also the cold black and white video.
The music in I Can’t Go On Without You is a blend of the two previous songs. It begins in a darker medium, with Son playfully whistling to an eerie background. He utilizes his lower range to show indifference to his love moving on while ending up pleading to her of his plight when he reaches high.
All in all, Kaleo has developed a sound that is entirely new, yet feels familiar to the average listener. They borrow from many aspects of blues, rock and alternative, which in the end resonates in some way with mostly everyone. Having only just released their debut, Kaleo has the opportunity to put Iceland on the music map.