Fangirl Fridays – Kaleo

I’ve needed some major distraction from the incessant sucking sound 2017 keeps making in my brain. Something transcendent, to mend the edges of my tattered dreams, to inspire hope in tomorrow, to reawaken my heart to awe.

Kaleo has been that distraction — or more like a REVELATION!! They’ve made me excited about music again, and truly soothed this savaged breast. It’s impossible for me to stay sad whenever I immerse myself in their very distinctive, sexy, eclectic sound.

I’ve given Kaleo’s A/B CD as birthday gifts all year. (Haven’t seen any repurposed as coasters, either!) But since I’m running out of money, I decided I should write a fangirl post while I rebuild my savings. Because I think everyone should have a chance to hear (not to mention feast their eyes on) Kaleo. It’s my new mission in life.

So I’ve rounded up a few tunes. And pictures. Be warned, these are definitely Man Candy! (Such a difficult task, researching this post. Hahahaha.) I hope you enjoy them!

How Kaleo seduced my ears, eyes, and heart

Bluesy guitar rock is my favorite musical genre, but that hasn’t exactly been burning up the airwaves lately. The more I listen to “new music”, the more I feel like a dinosaur. I’d been in an NPR mood for months, but the time came when I couldn’t listen to any more news and I started punching buttons on the radio.

Kaleo began as a blip on my morning commute in January — with a somber tune called Way Down We Go. I looked to see who it was the very first time I heard it. Then I progressed through all the stages of “who’s that, again?” the next 35 times I heard it. I finally figured out a formula to help me remember. Cameo? No, something Hawaiian. Like Khal Drogo? (Jason Momoa lived in Hawaii, no?) Khal Drogo + Cameo = Kaleo! It was a tantalizing blend of blues, gospel, and pure ear sex, but it was not exactly cheery, so remembering their name was as far as I got.

Then I watched a live performance that someone shared on Facebook and officially entered the Holy Freakin’ Moly fan stage! Kaleo was not an elderly, African-American gospel group from Mississippi? They were 20-something-year-old guys from Iceland?? Who I realized within 30 seconds were a damn sight more impressive in a video than on the radio! And damn fine looking, too!!

When they played a concert at our local zoo, I went to see them and fell in love. Hard and fast. Like I was a youthful free spirit again. *sigh* Age was immaterial. I could not take my eyes off this band!!

OMG, Who Are These Guys?

The band tells its story on its official website, but I’ll summarize a few high points.

Kaleo, which means “the sound” in Hawaiian, started in a garage in Mosfellsbær, Iceland, in 2012.
  • Jökull Júlíusson (JJ Julius Son) – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano
  • Daníel Ægir Kristjánsson (Daniel Kristjansson) – bass
  • Davíð Antonsson (David Antonsson) – drums, percussion, backing vocals
  • Rubin Pollock – lead guitar, backing vocals
The first three had been friends since elementary school, started playing music together in high school, added a lead guitarist in 2012, and soon hit the Icelandic music festivals. Within a couple of years, they’d become very popular in their own country. Although you can often hear the influence of American blues and folk in their signature sound, Iceland’s inspiration remains important to their music, and JJ often writes new songs when he goes home for visits.
Juliusson sees the band’s hometown as important as any musical influence. “Growing up in Iceland, you definitely are very inspired and connected to nature,” he says. “We do have long and dark winters and summers that are very special to us. So you can hear that, in a way. That probably has something to do with the music.” source
In 2015, they signed with Atlantic Records and moved to one of my favorite music meccas, Austin, Texas. But they rarely lived there, because they spent most of their time touring. They’ve since moved to Nashville, where their recording studio is located. (Maybe. Now I can’t find the article where I read that.) And Jökull has Americanized his name to JJ, perhaps because he’s tired of hearing us mangle the pronunciation.

They’ve released two studio albums, Kaleo and A/B, plus an EP, Glasshouse. According to their website:
The concept behind A/B comes from Julius Son’s love of the split sides of vinyl records and their ability to showcase an artist’s different sides. “I write very different songs that many would like to label into different genres,” he says. “The idea of A/B is to show the diversity and the two sides of the band.” The “A” side is more rock and roll and blues ... while the “B” side is a bit softer with more ballads.

Man Candy!

When I got home from the concert, I googled the lead singer and found Why Everyone Should Love the Lead Singer of Kaleo. Obviously, I was way late to this fan club.

The media tends to focus on JJ, but let’s not forget the rest of the guys. Not an unattractive one in the bunch.

But damn. Calm, cool charisma (Jökull means glacier), smoking hot looks, and dead sexy voice.

I don’t feel all that guilty for ogling admiring his exterior qualities, either. Because it’s impossible to merely objectify this man, when the rest of him is equally irresistible. There’s the voice of a blues god, the soul of a poet, and the pure, unadulterated love of music, and those are rare and elusive qualities that I regard with reverence.

The really cool thing is that this group seems completely humble, grounded, and focused on music. Genuinely unspoiled, nice guys who have spent most of the last few years playing small gigs all over the US and Europe. (And increasingly large gigs: they recently opened for the Rolling Stones, who have made a looooong career out of reinterpreting American blues.)

Their Many Musical Moods

Here are a few videos I found while screwing off researching some stress-reducing break bait to send to my sister. Each is an inspiration to sit down and relax for five minutes, listen to a song, and enjoy a nice cup of tea or a few sips of wine, possibly followed by a cold shower.

Southern blues

Bang Bang
I’ll ease you in gently. Here is a new spin on a very old song that Sonny and Cher used to sing. It’s not pop anymore. It’s haunting and soulful and uniquely Kaleo. This is a good example of how they start off slow and then veer in directions you don’t expect. Enjoy looking at the band while you wait for the music to hook you. You’re welcome.

Can’t Go On Without You
Here’s a song that I didn’t appreciate until I heard it live and had to sit through the whole thing. Because of the slow start thing. But now I love it. And the comments here are priceless. I’m not the only fan gobsmacked by the sexy voice in the sexy package.

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! *fanself*

Broken Bones
This song sounds like it sprouted organically from the fields of a bygone era in the Deep South. I have never been the biggest fan of gospel music, but Kaleo infuses it with Delta blues and evocative vocals and masterful, stripped down instrumentals. Again, how are these guys so young? And from Iceland? When I think of Iceland, I see Vikings, fairies, and a strong seafaring culture. Yet in this song, I hear voices from a cultural heritage I wouldn’t expect these guys to channel so movingly.

Songs sung in beautiful scenery

These videos pair the band’s music with the spectacular Icelandic outdoors, in case you’d like to feast your eyes on some sweeping vistas and your eyeballs aren’t already scorched from gorging on the man candy.

In their native language...
Vor í Vaglaskógi is Kaleo’s interpretation of a popular Icelandic love song that sometimes brings tears to my eyes, even though I don’t understand a single word. JJ doesn’t want to share the lyrics, he likes to “let the listeners decide what each song means to them”, because “different people connect to songs in a different way”. In these scenes of the people and places around Iceland, I keep looking for Wench Beta and Inga, who were very naughty to keep these guys to themselves for so long...

In a volcano...

On an iceberg...

Classic Rock and Roll

I can’t listen to this band for long without breaking out in a great big smile and succumbing to the uncontrollable urge to get moving. Consider these high-energy guitar rockers a test to see if you feel the same!

No Good
Kaleo hasn’t released any rockers as singles. Here’s one they say they’d might like to release. Mmmmmmm, that grrrrrowl.

Hot Blood
I’ll end with my two favorite mood-elevating, can’t-sit-still, pump-my-fists-and-dance-around-the-room songs. I couldn’t find a live recording that did this one justice, so here’s the official non-video version. Try not to melt into a puddle when he snarls “Hot blood, love is gonna get you”.

Rock N Roller

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Friday montage of music and man candy! If you want more, there are a few concert videos on YouTube. And be sure to check out Kaleo live while they’re still playing small venues. I think they’re appreciated best as a live band, and videos can’t begin to capture their vibrancy, soulful depth, and inspired new vision for a classic sound. How these denizens of the Northlands found the extraordinary connection to what I thought was a distinctively American slice of the musical pie is a mystery to me, but for the first time in a looooong time, I’m truly excited for the new generation of music!

Are you a fan of Kaleo, Saucy Reader? Have you seen them live yet? What’s your favorite song? Which part of you appreciates the band more: your eyes or your ears? Let us know in the comments!


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