Words by Aine Cronin-McCartney
Forming in 2012, the Icelandic indie quartet Kaleo met after attending school together. Kaleo – which translates to ‘the sound’ in Hawaiian – quickly became a phenomenon in their own country. Releasing their music independently and building up a huge fan base, the band were quickly signed to Iceland’s biggest record label, Sena, in 2013. The band recorded their self-titled debut album in an incredible 6 weeks, scoring five number one singles and playing multiple festival slots across Europe. This included appearing at Culture Night, the biggest festival in their home country, where they played to 100,000 people and reached 90% of Iceland’s population via tv broadcast.
The release of their single ‘Pretty Girls’, inspired by the beautiful nature and mood of the beautiful summers of Iceland caught people’s attention. The song showcases singer Jökull Júlíusson, who has a delicate tenderness to his voice and is very reminiscent of Bon Iver throughout the track. After signing to Atlantic Records in early 2015, the band decided to leave their island home, relocating to Austin, Texas, where they have since been making waves across America, including getting mainstream radio airplay. Since then, the single has been included in a multitude of advertisements, tv programmes and video games, as well as topping the American Billboard chart with their singles.
Their newest album ‘A/B’ was released on the 10th of June. The first half of the album is distinctly different to the second half, created to emulate the format of a vinyl record. Songs such as ‘Way Down We Go’ help bring their own brand of Icelandic folk and blues to a mainstream audience, with the sombre narrative of Júlíusson’s vocals hauntingly woven throughout. The band also appropriately performed the song ‘Way Down We Go’ live inside the depths of Iceland’s Þríhnúkagígur volcano located outside of Reykjavik, captured stunningly on video.
The album begins with the track ‘No Good’, which was also featured in the recent music-themed HBO series Vinyl and contains crushing riffs from guitarist Rubin Pollock. Accompanied by a grittier vocal from Júlíusson, the band deliver the perfect, hard-hitting blues rock song. The blues and soul vibe is evident throughout the album, from the thick percussion on ‘Glass House’, to the introspective and brutally honest lyrics of ‘Save Yourself’. What has made Kaleo truly unique? They have used their remote upbringing, against the backdrop of breath taking landscapes, as inspiration to help craft and create their own sound.
Kaleo are scheduled to play a sold out show on the 12th of July at London Dingwalls. The gig was moved from the Lexington after it sold out within 5 minutes. They will return in November to play a short string of dates in the UK and Ireland.