Music can be many things; rebellious, rousing, raucous, rude. It can be stirring or soothing, motivating or moving; there is music for fighting, music for fucking, music for contemplation, music for creation. Usually all of these disparate emotions and reactions are provoked independently by artists from different places and times, hunted down by the passionate and placed carefully in curated collections. They are rarely, if ever, found together on a single record. Icelandic blues warriors Kaleo’s new album A/B, forged in the heart of a freaking volcano, may well have broken the mould.
Opener No Good is the exact opposite of that title; it is a seething, pulsating slab of modern blues, all squalling guitars and raw, heartfelt vocals that featured in Martin Scorsese’s recent Sky Atlantic series Vinyl. There are echoes of an angrier version of The Black Keys as the song builds and builds before a wild solo breaks the song back down and leaves you wanting more. Good job too because it’s followed immediately by breakout single Way Down We Go, a moody mid-tempo number that pulsates with passion and restraint. The opening salvo is rounded off by the anthemic Broken Bones, a chain-gang chant set to a classic blues riff so authentic you can see the distant heat haze.
Elsewhere there are touches of classic country, indie rock, gang vocals and heavy grooves but also delicate acoustic folk ballads like All The Pretty Girls that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Bon Iver set. Kaleo are certainly not afraid to experiment and vocalist JJ Julius Son’s clean, expressive voice suits every mood and dynamic.
Whilst most of the record is sung in English, Vor I Vaglaskogi is a beautiful Icelandic paean, an ode to their homeland that soars triumphantly over the forests and fjords. There is nothing cynical about these songs; the album is an honest showcase of the band’s influences and dexterity, from their pure-bred pop sensibilities to their hard-earned blues-mutt credentials. With A/B, Kaleo have bared to the world their very souls.
Words by David Sealey