with numerous delays, an inevitable sophomore slump, and an objective approach, i figured that ‘surface sounds’ would be disappointing. however, this album lets down in a much more drastic sense than expected, largely because kaleo are capable of so much more.
on ‘surface sounds’, kaleo play it safe. this project is hardly permissible by the standard formerly set by the icelandic group.
for the years following the successful release of ‘a/b’, kaleo did a massive amount of international touring to promote their name. during this time, something happened to jj’s signature voice.
i believe that kaleo covered up how major this was. they kinda played it off, reasoning that the extended touring wore out jj’s vocals, and that he needed rest. this is all reasonable and true, except now that ‘surface sounds’ has finally dropped, it seems that the issues with jj’s voice have persisted.
jj’s voice isn’t hitting those high notes anymore, and he scarcely uses his full range. his voice is the best instrumental talent kaleo have, which is saying a lot. it’s the quintessential piece to the band that is kaleo. however, it has definitely been altered, and i fear this alteration may be permanent.
if so, if the damage is major, then jj is fully capable of adapting, and using a different tone or range for his performances. that’s what i believe ‘surface sounds’ is: a result of a setback.
during the earlier stages of touring, the effort jj was giving on a nightly basis was too much because of his powerful range. he had to start toning it down. i can attest to this, as when i saw kaleo perform during this era (opening for the lumineers), i could easily tell that jj was dialing it back with his vocal effort.
sadly, this live attempt to dial it back seems to have seeped into the studio music, as none of the talented band members are even close to sounding or performing at their best:
the bass is not used properly, as it is blended into the background via the production process. it’s difficult to hear the instrument, and the sparse use of bass instrumentation is unfair to daniel kristjánsson’s talent.
there’s too much guitar, and even the enjoyable guitar parts are too quiet.
the percussion is predictable, and frankly, it’s lame.
overall, the music is too cheesy for too much of the time.
conversely, kaleo’s first international album, ‘a/b’, was full of wonderfully fresh material, with an emphasis on songwriting, performance, pushing genre boundaries, and jj’s voice.
i rated kaleo’s debut album about a 98/100, so, suffice it to say, i had high expectations for ‘surface sounds’.
the final result of ‘surface sounds’ is not it, chief. this album is upsetting due to its lack of musical risk taking.
while kaleo do thoughtfully create a tracklist that sounds completely different than ‘a/b’, ‘surface sounds’ is underwhelming; it works to little avail.
‘surface sounds’ lacks the iconic riffs present on “no good”. it lacks the emotional vulnerability of “all the pretty girls”. it doesn’t contain the devilish style of “broken bones”. there are no stunning vocal dynamics like “way down we go”.
there isn’t a key moment on ‘surface sounds’, in terms of performance, that works nearly as impressively as the vocal performance of “i can’t go on without you”. additionally, there isn’t the mysterious quality of the skilled whistling present on “i can’t go on without you”.
kaleo do not add much to their formula, other than backing choirs. meanwhile, they still sound stripped back, as if they took pieces of their band away.
the way that ‘surface sounds’ is organized inspires false hope. i found that once as the guitar solo of second track “break my baby” started going off, i gained confidence for the rest of the album.
my extremely high expectations for kaleo briefly returned, based on a brief, somewhat return to form.
after a few minutes, this hopeful energy sizzled out, and eventually the realization hit that ‘surface sounds’ is average.
i hope that this release got something toxic out of kaleo’s system, so they can get back to their grind and strive in the future. because as i see it now, ‘surface sounds’ did not successfully further kaleo’s resume.