Elektra/Atlantic, 2016


REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


Way back in 2014, I was struck by an understated yet commanding ballad from Icelandic foursome Kaleo called “All The Pretty Girls.” With its gently weaving guitar line and vocalist Jökull Júlíusson’s lovely falsetto, the single was an inviting introduction to a band that can move effortlessly from tender folk songs to blistering blues-rock – sometimes even within the same track. I feel like I’ve been following Kaleo for a while now, though they’ve been slowly but steadily building a following in their native Iceland since 2012. I even caught their live show earlier this year, bringing the anticipation to an all-time high. So how does their debut album A/B stack up?

Well, at the very least, it’s good enough to bring me out of my grad school-induced hiatus long enough to put words to paper about something other than ink blots. I was already familiar with about a third of the material that made its way to the album, including the slow-burning “Way Down We Go” and the incendiary ‘70s rock throwback “No Good,” all foot stomps and howling guitar lines that mimic Júlíusson’s throaty growl. Meanwhile, the utterly gorgeous “Vor í Vaglaskógi,” sung in their native Icelandic, was Kaleo’s first single way back in 2013 and provides a moment of quiet restraint amid a selection of energized, totally irresistible rock jams. Júlíusson’s vocals are the anchor throughout the album, ranging from gruff to his soaring, upper-register falsetto; he’s a perfect rock frontman, holding the listener in the palm of his hand with a confidence and grace. And of course, the rest of the band is no slouch either: there’s drummer David Antonsson Crivello, and bassist Danny Jones, who both joined Júlíusson at the age of 17, and guitarist Rubin Pollock, who came aboard in 2012. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

While Kaleo certainly has some elements (and the attitude!) of hard rock’s classic heyday, their amalgamation of styles on A/B is a modern look all their own. From the gritty blues swagger of “Glass House,” “Broken Bones,” and “Hot Blood” – which sound like the Black Keys and AC/DC meeting up for whiskey shots – to the sun-kissed folk twang of “Automobile,” the songs here are straightforward but layered enough to stick with you.

But it’s the last two cuts of the album that cemented A/B as one of my top 10 contenders for this year. “Save Yourself” starts out spare and delicate, just the muted strum of the acoustic guitar and Júlíusson’s pleading falsetto; but slowly, insistently, the instrumentation crests into the full-blooded refrain: “How you gonna break? Aren’t you gonna take me? What’s it gonna take?” Meanwhile, I’ve had closer “I Can’t Go On Without You” on repeat since the first time I spun it a few months ago, and it pairs especially nicely with “Save Yourself,” capturing the bittersweet, painful pull of spurned love. The first forty seconds or so are just acoustic guitar crackling over the airwaves, overlaid with some ominous whistling, until Júlíusson’s low growl emerges: “Well, they thought they were made for each other / Only thinking of one another / Never thinking just for one second / She could take a different attraction,” he sings, setting the atmosphere. Over the course of six minutes, it becomes a glorious epic full of cascading guitars, shimmers of violin, and Júlíusson’s capable handling of the vocals, which range from explosive to cathartic to pleading as he reckons with the memory of his lost lover. At times, this cut almost sounds like it was plucked out of the ‘70s, and yet there is also something so timeless about it – it’s just stunning.

At 10 songs and 42 minutes, A/B provides a tantalizing glimpse of a band on the rise, beginning to both explore and cement their strengths. I’d love to see them inject even more of their own personality into the simpler-sounding rockers, but the diversity of material here ensures that the disc never becomes stale. They also put on one heck of a live show!

Rating: A-

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