After their controversial and immense 2016 release “Beyond Control”, it’d be fair to say that a mixtape featuring a host of guest appearances (Andy Mineo and Propaganda are two examples) is the last thing fans were expecting from Kings Kaleidoscope.
Obviously the collective has not spent too much time off, managing to release new music every year. While the core of their sound has traditionally been immersive chamber pop mixed with progressive rock, “The Beauty Between” strays a bit, instead opting for hip-hop instrumentals, R&B vocal influences, and the aforementioned slew of guest appearances. There’s enough familiarity to discern it’s a Kings Kaleidoscope release; or rather, if you heard it in passing, you might mistake it for a guest feature.
For sake of transparency, I will confess my relationship with hip-hop is a bit odd. I have no interest in gangster rap or dubstep drops. However, thoughtful and pensive lyrics will always appeal to me, and organic sounds and real instrumentation definitely beats a remixed EDM beat. Unsurprisingly, the mixtape features the latter of these elements. Even though the shift in direction did catch me off guard, the group is well-equipped with instrumentation to round the sound off. Horns are still present; drumming in engaging; vocals are heartfelt and often passionately aggressive; dynamics complete the equation.
In relation to other hip-hop acts, “The Beauty Between” features a classic sound that probably warrants at least some comparison to the production found on many Humble Beast releases of late. Again, the organic nature of the music truly shines. The album definitely feels urban smooth, and I’m reminded of the soundtracks of old Tony Hawk games at times.
Apart from two interludes (Does It Feel Like Real Love Yet?, Every Branch (Reprieve)), there aren’t too many barren moments. There are always layers of instrumentation and plenty of subtleties at play. Whether it’s the key-change on closer Rain, the funky bass on the title track, or the ambient undertones on Safe Retreat, there’s plenty of beauty in the details.
The guest appearances are an interesting addition, though I’m a bit indifferent toward them. They certainly fit into the songs, but I’m not sure there’s much added value. On the same token, the songs aren’t marred by these additions, either. Rather, the songwriting here simply seems strong enough to not necessitate guest appearances.
Lyrics are stunning and are conveyed through smooth R&B lines, falsetto, female additions, and plenty of genuine emotion.
Ultimately, I’m quite impressed. I’ve generally been ambivalent about Kings Kaleidoscope’s previous releases. They’ve always been talented, but there has always been a bit on inherent chaos in their writing. Here, they reigned in instrumentation a bit for a set of songs that are in some ways certainly more conventional. However, they’ve done it well, further showing audiences their ability to span genres and defy expectations. The group has not denied who they are; they’ve simply taken their best and worked into a new context.