Our top 10 Kaleo songs introduce us to an Icelandic band famed for its transcendent rock career. The band’s music has been influenced by music genres such as alternative rock, indie rock, and blues-rock (most predominant). While most of the bands have their members brought together by their musical prowess, Kaleo was established on best friendship by its members since elementary school. Best friends JJ, Daniel Kristjansson, and David Antonsson would add Rubin Pollock to the original lineup giving the band a Hawaiian moniker Kaleo which translates to “The Voice.” Kaleo started its music career in 2012 with a trickle of positively-received shows on the Iceland Airwaves Music Fest.
The band’s music is well recognized by many for its predominant and distinct resonator sound. The band sang several Icelandic covers and later released an eponymous debut album that features several top hits. Following this, Kaleo would be inspired to tour Europe for their first time, which helped the band gain even more popularity. Their 2014 single “All the Pretty Girls” gifted Kaleo with even more attention on the international level having the song received more than eighty-seven million streams on Spotify.
Listening to the band’s music, it is undeniable that Kaleo has taken some musical influence from Cream, Hozier, ZZ Top, and Led Zeppelin. However, lead vocalist JJ revealed that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Carlos Santana influenced the band’s music. Thanks to the friendship shared, the band has maintained a great bond between the band members, having no lineup change since its formation. Here are the top 10 Kaleo songs from the band’s three studio albums Kaleo (2013), A/B (2016), Surface Sounds (2021).
#10 – Skinny
Opening up our top 10 Kaleo songs is the ballad “Skinny” from the band’s most recent album, Surface Sounds. While the song starts with vocalist JJ referencing a girl, it becomes ostensible that “Skinny” doesn’t address a lover. The song seems to probably address another singer as the lyrics take a dig at the music industry’s dark side. “Skinny” finds JJ strumming his guitars alongside impressive vocals. The song also brings the best of JJ’s songwriting skills.
#9 – Backbone
“Backbone” is a single written by JJ for the band’s album Surface Sounds. The song’s lyrics allude to a man returning from a battle; having him disputed and ruined, he saw his friend die in the field. There comes someone who asks the man where his resolve went having the person tell him to man up even without comprehending what he went through first. The man ends up questioning himself where his backbone brother is.
#8 – Hot Blood
Kaleo’s sophomore album A/B features the song “Hot Blood,” one of the band’s greatest releases. The song is praised by many for the sublime vocals by lead singer and songwriter JJ. However, some critics have stated that the song seems to take inspiration from The Black Keys hence making it lack the much-wanted originality.
#7 – Break My Baby
Lead vocalist JJ composed the lyrics for “Break My Baby,” which is one of the best Kaleo songs. The song was released on the same day with “I Want More,” another great song from Kaleo’s album Surface Sounds. “Break My Baby” finds JJ taking on a bluesy approach with his croaky yet awe-inspiring vocals. The Icelandic blues-rock band had the video of this song filmed atop an old lighthouse in their homeland, which is a rare location for many even Icelanders.
#6 – Broken Bones
Number six on our top 10 Kaleo songs is the ballad “Broken Bones.” The song feels more of a Delta blues ballad having it bring some old-fashioned vibe, which is rare with modern music. “Broken Bones” has the rebels of the Slavery Blues being the concept of the ballad. The song was inspired by American slave history, as suggested by the song lyrics. Lead vocalist JJ would also confirm the same in an interview where he also revealed that he was the primary songwriter of “Broken Bones.”
#5 – All The Pretty Girls
Icelandic indie rock scene is rarely explored, but thanks to songs like “All The Pretty Girls,” we can feel the indie rock vibes from this European nation. “All The Pretty Girls” is a lavishly seductive ballad from the band’s 2016 album A/B. Many, including vocalist JJ, credit the song for the band’s popularity and what felt like some overnight success. It is the tender tranquility of this delicate song that makes it quite an enchanting release.
#4 – No Good
The song “No Good” has been described by many as a tenacious Jack White-Esque blues-rock anthem. Featured on the band’s album A/B, “No Good” mines a vein that Jimi Hendrix would be proud of thanks to its iconic sound. The song plays out with a blistering rhythm that features deep blues-rock vibes making it one of the best Kaleo songs ever released. “No Good” was featured on the original soundtrack of the TV series Cyclone. The song had Kaleo nominated for the Best Rock Performance in the 2017 Grammy Awards.
#3 – Save Yourself
Let’s talk creativity; let’s talk about Kaleo’s video for “Save Yourself.” Iceland might just have gifted Kaleo with the best sites to record their music, but the video for this song feels out of the world! “Save Yourself,” featured on the band’s album A/B, on what seems like a moving iceberg. When JJ sings the lyrics, “Are you gonna break,” you almost feel like the iceberg is soon going to answer with a maybe (pun intended)! While the visual experience might look simple, it adds to the soft, melodic, and hauntingly mesmerizing nature of “Save Yourself,” making it one of the best Kaleo songs of all time.
#2 – I Can’t Go On Without You
Bull Moose Jackson amazed the world in 1948 with his dirty blues ballad “I Can’t Go On Without You.” The Icelandic icons Kaleo released a song with a similar title (but different lyrics) famed for its haunting electric guitar sounds. Vocalist JJ makes whistling in a song’s intro more gracious and a perfect way to add some silky and smooth tune to a song. His vocals and the song’s instrumentation were key in making this song one of the band’s best releases. The song makes you wish for collaboration between Kaleo and Hozier.
#1 – Way Down We Go
Number one on our top 10 Kaleo songs list is the ballad “Way Down We Go” from the band’s album A/B. Written by singer and songwriter JJ, the song is an unadulterated bluesy release that peaked at number one on the Billboard Alternative Songs and Billboard Rock Airplay charts. It is JJ’s sublime vocals and magnificent lyrics that make the song the best release by Kaleo. The song has had the most appearance in media than any other Kaleo songs used in The Blacklist, The Vampire Diaries, Suits, and Teen Wolf, among other films. “Way Down We Go” was also featured in the FIFA 16 soundtrack. Lost Frequencies played the remix of the song during his 2018 set at Tomorrowland.
Feature Photo: © Markus Felix | PushingPixels (contact me), CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Kaleo Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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