Scandinavian and Nordic music is seeming producing an endless string of musical acts that are making their mark around the world, and blues/rock band Kaleo are another part of this esteemed group.
Kaleo’s beginnings came when school friends JJ Julius Son (lead vocals and guitar), David Antonsson (drummer), and Daniel Kristjansson (bass) started playing together as a band in Mosfellsbær, Iceland . The trio would later bring on board Rubin Pollock (lead guitar), and a series of well reviewed performances at the 2012 Iceland Airwaves music festival shortly afterwards would lead to people starting to take notice. The band would sign for Atlantic Records in 2015 after having two singles, Vor í Vaglaskógi and All The Pretty Girls, receive widespread radio play across Iceland in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Shortly after signing with Atlantic, the band would move from Reykjavik to set up base in Austin, Texas, and it was from there that things would start to make headway for Kaleo.
2015 would prove to be a big year for the band. It would include a performance at the esteemed South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, and the release of their biggest single to date, Way Down We Go, which would become a regular on the soundtracks of TV shows; such as The Vampire Diaries, Supergirl, and The Originals. June 2016 would mark the release of the debut LP from the band, A/B.
A/B would be met with widely positive reviews, a sharp collection of folk and blues influenced songs that perfectly showcased what the band were trying to do. It would be one of the most enjoyable releases that this writer would listen to during that year, with its raw and energetic delivery.
The first thing that hits you when you listen to Kaleo is the distinctive vocals of JJ Julius Son. Deep and raspy, it immediately draws you in from the first track on the album, No Good. As well as the vocals on show, we are greeted with aggressive instrumentation that is made to be played at full volume. This kind of instrumentation and energy is also present on tracks such as Glasshouse and Hot Blood.
However, there are also some reflective and laid back moments within the ten songs as well. The song Automobile can seem like a strange inclusion on the track list with its mainly acoustic sound seemingly out of place against the songs that surround it, but it remains a very strong stand alone piece of music. The inclusion of the cover of Icelandic folk song Vor í Vaglaskógi would serve as a reminder to listeners of the heritage of the band.
The album concludes with the six minute ballad, I Can’t Go On Without You, a dark and atmospheric offering that showcases the vocal capabilities of Son. A song with a narrative sang from the viewpoint of one side of a failed relationship.
Certain critics have argued that the music of Kaleo lacks originality and that the band are guilty of just regurgitating traditional blues and rock sounds. However, it is the opinion of this writer that Kaleo have taken something that is familiar to many and infused it with their Icelandic heritage to create an album that catches the attention of listeners from the very first guitar chord. There is plenty on this LP that suggests that Kaleo are a band who are only beginning their musical journey.