Though the band's debut album plays things mostly safe, it also makes its larger-than-life ambitions crystal clear, straddling the fence between lo-fi garage and grandiose arena rock so intimately that it threatens to rip a hole in its already ripped jeans. The first six tracks are pure, awesome rock'n'roll, a whirlwind of swirling guitar licks and crashing cymbals. The opening number, 'Glass House,' is the album in a melodious nutshell, as lead guitarist Rubin Pollock's staccato picking weaves in and out of Jökull Júlíusson half-growled vocals. The lyrics are sometimes throwaway–two minutes into the song, bah-bah-bahs simply begin to replace real words–but that hardly matters when they're delivered in Jökull's surprisingly soulful voice.
That voice also goes a long way on the album's most daring track, 'Broken Bones' an electrified chain-gang tune that couldn't possibly have been written by two white boys in Iceland, yet somehow was. "I went down deep Texas, Mississippi state / Hoping things might go my way / For every hard-earned dollar I made / There stands a white man just to take it away," Jökull sings. The downbeat backing vocals and the tambourine rattling away like leg shackles provide the lyrics with a fitting exclamation mark.
The last five tracks ratchet down the tempo even further and play up the crowd-pleasing closeness. Each song in this set sounds distinct, from bluesy romance ('Pour Sugar On Me') to semi-acoustic, wind-in-your-hair road music ('Automobile') to folk ballad ('Vor í Vaglaskógi'). The moods evoked are contemplative, almost worshipful. As with the opening numbers, there's not a single note out of place. It's hard to tell which half of the album obscurantist music critics will hate more, but I suspect the answer is the second.
That's their problem though, because Kaleo promises big things. For a debut from young guys, this record perfectly demonstrates both writing and playing chops. If their sophomore album is as individual as this one is rocking, then it'll be a real treat, and a deserved bestseller, too.
If you think Kings of Leon, the Black Keys and the White Stripes are all purveyors of derivative trash, then there's a new purveyor on the scene for you to hate. If, on the other hand, you think they're refreshingly straightforward examples of what God intended for mankind when he invented the electric guitar, then rejoice, because the boys of Kaleo do it similarly, and they do it very, very well.