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iGEN by Ted Volk
The Place Where Radio and Records come Together Without Talking

By Samantha Hissong

If you're one to stay in the know when it comes to buzzbands, you may have been hearing talk of a brand new Icelandic band, led by a singer/songwriter who looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model. And if you found yourself at L.A.’s Troubadour on Friday evening for an introduction to Kaleo, you probably had little to no idea what you were in for.

To put it simply, the Mosfellsbær-bred four-piece dropped jaws with a soulful and genre-defying set, one that emulated power beyond their years and way beyond their friendly appearances. The night included folky—sometimes country-esque—singalongs (“Automobile,” “Pour Sugar on Me”), soulful heart-stoppers (“I Can’t Go On Without You”), electrifying rock jams (“No Good,” “Fool,” “Rock ‘n’ Roller”) and chilling alternative ballads (“All the Pretty Girls,” “Way Down We Go”). Not to be cliché, but you could hear a pin drop during “I Can’t Go on Without You” and “Vor í Vaglaskógi”—a song delivered entirely in Icelandic. Oh, and bonus points for covering Cher’s “Bang Bang,” and for doing so with a metaphorical kick and a very literal growl.

Frontman Jökull Júlíusson’s vocals proved to be a real highlight, considering they’re some of the best this writer has ever heard. Júlíusson’s incomprehensible range allows him to bellow sounds that are low, gravelly and packed with gravitas (think Joe Cocker) before transitioning seamlessly to that classic, rock howl—the kind made iconic by the likes of Robert Plant and Steven Tyler—or hitting a falsetto that evokes comparisons to the stylings of Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), and even puts the latter to shame at times.

Kaleo’s overall musicianship was beyond admirable, given their tightness and raw talent. That being said, it’s no wonder they scored syncs in trailers for both Fox hit Empire and HBO’s Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese-produced Vinyl; click the links to watch the spots. “I received a phone call last week and was told that (Mick) Jagger and (Martin) Scorsese wanted to use one of our songs in their new television series. We were given three days to complete the song,” Júlíusson stated a few months back. It’s that kind of drive (when mixed with their aforementioned skill and uniqueness) that has positioned them for a breakthrough.

The Elektra band—managed by Triple8—is now on a nearly sold-out, headlining tour, and last week, they made their late night TV debut on Conan. Single “Way Down We Go” just debuted at #34 on the Alternative radio chart, as it continues to climb through the Triple A Top 10. “Way Down” was also the #2 Biggest Gainer on the Shazam USA Top 100 this week, as it jumped 123 spots, going #174-51.

It’s pretty safe to say that the music community can expect big things from Kaleo. That being said, anything is bigger and better than being featured by HITS, so the only way to go is up.