In 2019, Zeal effectively cemented Kings Kaleidoscope as one of my absolute favorite acts. The album contained some of the band's best work, featuring evocative songwriting and storytelling, complemented by tight instrumentation and singable melodies. 2022's post-Covid Baptized Imagination showed the band had been through some heavy times, but that same spirit of Zeal was alive and well despite the darker tone. This left me with high hopes for their promised self-titled album - even more so when the release date got pushed back so Chad Gardner and company could tighten it up. How does Kings Kaleidoscope stack up to the expectations? Well...
I want to start by saying that Kings K has once again done a lot of what they do well. The eight proper songs are all highly enjoyable to listen to, begging to be put on repeat and featuring superb musicianship with a great deal of ingenuity and experimentation. "Radiant Reason" is an immediate highlight; in the fashion of 2017's The Beauty Between, the song is built on a smooth hip-hop groove with an attractive bass line and some '90s pop influence for extra flavor. "Infinity" comes out of the gate strong as my favorite track, with addictive synths and loads of guitars with various interesting effects, even feeling a bit euphoric at times. I love that Kings K load up their songs with layers of gorgeous sounds, utilizing synth, brass, and extra percussion to fill the songs while knowing full well when too much is too much.
The album also features three pre-release singles that were released at various times in the last year and a half: "Forever Again," "Story," and "All the Emotions," the last of which was slightly redone to add in new parts, giving the listener something extra to close it out. Having spent time enjoying the singles as standalone songs, it has been nice to finally hear them in context and to discover that they were good indicators of what Kings K would be bringing to the table this time around.
Unfortunately, the album doesn't quite stand up to the rest of the band's discography. The main detractor is that Kings Kaleidoscope lacks an overarching narrative, which is typically a key component to a Kings K album. Whether said narrative is the excitement and rush of a relationship with God (Zeal) or the journey from doubt and uncertainty to a renewed sense of awe in God's goodness and mercy (Baptized Imagination), there's always been something more to sink your teeth into. Obviously, that's not imperative to crafting a great album, but it's something we've come to expect from this band of incredibly talented, creative artists. To simply receive eight individual songs with no apparent major connection, well-written though they may be, is a minor letdown. (In all fairness, this is their second album in less than a year, so it's possible that they just wanted to give fans a little something extra, just for the sake of it.)
Having said all that, it should be made clear that the songs aren't completely disconnected from each other. Several of the songs act as uplifting love letters, like "Story," which seems to be from the perspective of talking to someone who needs a reminder of the value God places on us ("You're in town, not around / I've been waiting for you now, let it out / take me into your eyes / I can see your heart cries / see the moon in the clouds / we can sit under the stars in the garden / tell me where your ghost hides / we can talk with no time"). Some listeners may take offense at the mild language in the song, but it's only the word "h*ll," and the song is nonetheless encouraging, as Gardner sings, "You don't need a different story / Heaven only holds us broken as h*ll / living in a tale of glory / it's a miracle becoming yourself / you're a miracle now." And though the album isn't explicitly Christian (the Lord's name isn't mentioned at any point), there are multiple songs that are clearly declarations of faith in God's love, like "Forever Again" and "Radiant Reason." Then there's "Infinity," which poignantly states, "Stop, wait, speak straight, come again / help me find the signs in all the lines You're coloring / it's a mystery, and I want to see / deep into the valley of Your shadow-covering / chasing the riptides / facing the fallout / I surrender now ... I wander, but I want You more / infinity is just the floor / no matter what I'm searching for / I love You more than my reasons why."
At the end of the day, Kings Kaleidoscope have never released a bad album, and their self-titled project is no exception. It doesn't hit the way I expected, and it's understandable that some may be underwhelmed by it. But if we look at it for what it is - a collection of eight songs from an excellent band (following an album that was meant to be taken as a whole, with only one or two individual tracks that could stand on their own) - it becomes easier to find the beauty in it. I'm definitely looking forward to something a bit more cohesive in the future, but in the meantime, Kings Kaleidoscope will spend a good amount of time in my ears.- Review date: 8/10/23, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Rainbow Records
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