Review – Kai Exos, ‘Telegraph’

Toronto Newcomer Kai Exos Shows Tremendous Promise on Debut Telegraph
Kai Exos • Telegraph • VMP Group • US Release Date: June 10, 2014

In 2005, R&B singer Leela James sang a song titled “Music”, which had some harsh criticisms towards current music. To quote the “old soul” contemporary R&B singer, “Can’t even turn on my radio / somebody hollerin’ ‘bout a b–ch or a ho”. In 2014, this sentiment has only grown, with music growing more and more explicit.

One soulful artist from Toronto, Canada by the name of Kai Exos seems to eschew the ills of which James references. On his debut album Telegraph, the classically trained pianist and one-time southern Baptist choir musician avoids the pitfalls of contemporary music. Even in his avoidance of the profane and NSFW, Exos still manages to exhibit plenty of, well ‘swag’ and more importantly, musical promise and potential.

On “Vigilante”, Exos flaunts his beautiful, natural vocal tone. With production radiating a soulful ambience, the record feels unforced and organic in quality. The refrain stands tall, catching the ear, led by key lyric “…Oh vigilante, won’t you protect me?” While the set’s single doesn’t reinvent R&B, there’s something refreshing and appealing about it.

Follow-up “Joe” isn’t quite as convincing, but the pieces are in place. Among the pros are the retro-soul cues. Among its rubs, however, is there’s hollowness; perhaps a little extra something else could have really made this cut ‘pop’. Also a bit more pronounced vocals from Exos – particularly the falsetto – would have been nice. Although a bit monotonous, “Joe” definitely has potential.

“Telegraph,” the second single from Telegraph, has a bit more drive than “Joe.” The pop/rock edge is definitely a pro, with intensity hailing from the start. Like everything else, Exos sings exceptionally well. Arguably, the cut may be the slightest bit too minimal, where just nudge or hint more direction and development would take it to the next level.

“Morning Song” atones for any improprieties, reviving old school much like “Joe”. “Morning Song” does a better job at executing, with Exos ‘digging in’ more vocally and showing more nuance and overall expression. Another gap not apparent here is the more prominent use of backing vocals, a requirement of soul music from the past. The soul keeps on going on “These Days”, where Exos continues to show more character and reveal his musical persona. While it doesn’t exceed the mark set by “Morning Song”, it easily meets expectations.

“Apart” gives Exos a true singer/songwriter moment. Accompanied by piano, which embraces ‘percussiveness’, the artist truly spreads his wings and continues to showcase why his voice is such an exceptional instrument. With its playful moments, “Apart” definitely marks one of the more notable vocal showcases of Exos’ potential. “Pretty” on the other hand, revisits full-fledged production work, including the use of guitars. Exos’ falsetto can be described a bit lighter, arguably coming off a bit weaker where vocal production is concerned. That said, there is also respect to be given to the fact the vocal production doesn’t overreach or compromise Exos.

Just as natural and organic are continually iterated, arrives modern R&B interlude “Strawberry”, which goes ‘for the kill’ using that glorious tool pitch correction. While pitch correction gets a bad rap (many times deserved), it is understandable why Exos uses the oft-infamous effect on this record – it foreshadows a stylistic shift. Standout “Goin’ Away” exemplifies the foreshadowed progressive spirit. While it is arguable whether pitch correction was truly necessary, what is inarguable is the craft of the production, namely the marching band drums and prominence of lush, electric piano.

Penultimate joint “You Don’t Know” has a tough act to follow, and while it doesn’t supersede “Goin’ Away”, it delivers another enjoyable selection. Bonus track “Gold” is a better record, featuring one of Exos’ strongest vocal performances. Throw in the refined, classy nature of the production – intact with upright bass, strings, piano, and live drums – and “Gold” sends Exos out on a high note on his debut album.

Ultimately, Telegraph shows an artist with incredible potential. Calling Kai Exos flashy would be an overstatement, but he definitely has the gift of singing, playing (piano), and musicianship. Telegraph, albeit brief, superbly sets the tone and direction for Exos’ musical career.

Favorites: “Vigilante”, “Morning Song”, “Goin’ Away” & “Gold

Verdict:  ★★★½ 

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