Icelandic rock-and-folk band Kaleo had a busy, successful year touring and performing across the country. But, the band also notably released its debut album, A/B, on June 10, and it has already captured many people’s attention.
In February, The PHOENIX interviewed lead singer Jökull Júlíusson (who goes by JJ). At the time, the band prepared to embark on its first headlined tour called Way Down We Go. Throughout the tour, the band hit many big cities such as Nashville, Los Angeles and New York City, and its popularity has grown consistently since then. By the end of June, Kaleo was asked to perform on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”
The cover art for the album is a black-and-white display of four hand- prints, one from each band member. The cover is symbolic not only of every member’s identity, but of the true hard work each has contributed to the music. It subtly hints at a passive message: Real music is made at the hands of the creators.
The first song off the album is called “No Good,” a song that encompasses all things hardcore rock-and-roll. It sounds like something from the climax of an action film when rebellious criminals are being chased down for their careless motivations. With its intense use of electric guitars, drums and strong vocals, it’s clear that “No Good” is the most powerful song on A/B.
Although the LP starts off with a bang, the second track “Way Down We Go” is particularly notable. Kaleo can credit their success to this specific song, as it has received radio play off various stations and it already has over 25 million plays on Spotify. Compared to the other songs on the album, which mostly have country/folk influences, “Way Down We Go” has its own spin on things. Unlike “No Good,” for example, this song is much slower and contains heavy elements of blues as the singer’s raw voice carries throughout with a soulful expression of sorrow.
Kaleo’s diverse sound includes unexpected rock and country inspirations, and a soulful enactment of emotion that is best communicated in the group’s take on blues. That’s what makes Kaleo so talented in its music— the musicians don’t forget that better tunes and better days come from a foundation of sorrow.
The next track on A/B is called “Broken Bones,” a song that has traces of country, with a beat at the beginning that is reminiscent of the Old West: Cowboys strutting in their heavy boots with guns strapped to their hips. As odd as that sounds, I’ve never listened to a band that has made me visualize a theme or culture so vividly.
In February, JJ told The PHOENIX that “I Can’t Go On Without You” is one of the most personal cuts on the LP. The six-minute song concludes the album and leaves the listener feeling a bit nostalgic and reflecting on one’s own experiences. It’s a heartbreaking song with solemn chords that never seem to brighten up. The song includes the phrase that people involved in unsteady relationships know so well: “She loves me, she loves me not.”
A/B features the songs that Kaleo is most known for, such as “All The Pretty Girls,” “Vor í Vaglaskógi” and “Way Down We Go.” My only issue with the record was that it could have been longer.
A number of songs on the record were previously released singles, and as a result it felt as though I had heard a large portion of the project before it even came out. But then again, it’s a new band in the process of establishing a stable ground in the tricky world of music. I’m hopeful that Kaleo has more new and exclusive songs that are waiting to be released to the world.
Currently, Kaleo is on its Handprint Tour where it will play two shows at the Chicago House of Blues (along with The Wind and The Wave) on Oct. 13 and 14. Tickets are $22 and are available on their website.