It’s safe to say that the profile of electronic music has grown over recent years. Yep, everybody loves a bass drop, not to mention the ability to groove to an electrifyingly, sick, minimalist groove – what a mouthful! Anyways, a newbie has joined the electronic music ranks – 24-year old Norwegian pianist/DJ/producer Kygo. Kygo is the next electronic star to watch, and his enjoyable debut Cloud Nine proves why.
“Intro” sets the tone for Cloud Nine, featuring clear classical music influences, with its pianistic touches and dramatic, aggressive strings. “Stole the Show” featuring Parson James follows, directing the album toward pop and electro sensibilities. Much like the intro, Kygo’s musical choices are gentler, driven more by ambiance as opposed to harder synths. Regardless, there’s still rhythmic intensity behind it as the percussiveness is a fine contrast to the gentler sounds within the production. James sings well, but the track still manages to place Kygo – or his music rather – in the spotlight.
“Fiction” featuring Tom Odell has a slightly more aggressive palette of sounds given the inclusion of guitar. It’s interesting, considering Odell sings in falsetto during the verses, giving something of an oxymoronic vibe. Like the opener, Kygo generally favors subtle sounds, once more clearly articulated during instrumental sections, breaks, and interludes. Kygo’s most dynamic moment is when he uses the piano.
“Raging” opens with driving, rhythmic guitars, but maintains its poise nonetheless. In this case, it’s Kodaline that initially builds the intensity. A nice production touch here is how this track shifts between prominences of the voice versus prominence of the music. What does that mean? At points, Kodaline are clearly the focus, while at others, Kygo makes his music the principal voice.
“Firestone,” Kygo’s worldwide smash, brings on Australian pop standout, Conrad Sewell. Much like previous songs, it’s clear to see Kygo’s musicianship, given his careful thought and seamless execution instrumentally. Sewell naturally sounds compelling as well. That said, compared to “Raging” for example, “Firestone” may not be the best song on Cloud Nine, despite the success Kygo has garnered.
“Happy Birthday” gives Kygo a different look, mainly thanks to featuring R&B standout John Legend. From Legend’s perspective, it is interesting to hear one of the industry’s most soulful singers in a pop/dance capacity. While pure soul will always be Legend’s lane (he proved this on his mixed contemporary pop/R&B effort Evolver), he sounds respectable here. Kygo naturally does a nice job of giving Legend a superb backdrop to paint those pipes over.
“I’m In Love” instantly captures the listener’s attention, thanks to Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow’s haunting vocals repeating the titular track. Musically, this is among the more enigmatic tracks. “Oasis” stands out from the first listen. Singer/songwriter Foxes proves to be the perfect match for Kygo, unsurprising considering her exceptional work with Zedd (“Clarity”). It’s safe to say that the “oasis” is overflowing.
“Not Alone,” featuring RHODES, is as consistent as everything else, sporting a feel-good vibe. After all, as RHODES sings, “you’re not alone.” It supersedes nothing but plays true to Kygo’s script. “Serious” opens mysteriously, with a fantastic, low-key groove established. Matt Corby’s lower register vocals stand out particularly, matching the mystic nature of the track. “Stay” ‘pops’ more, with Maty Noyes vocals packing a punch, not unlike Foxes’ ‘turn’ on “Oasis.”
How does the rest of Cloud Nine pan out? “Nothing Left” is “chill,” but has a weight about it considering its use of lower sounds and even guest Will Heard’s lower register. Things brighten up when Heard, much like Matt Corby earlier, ascends into his mid- and upper register. The radiant “Fragile” features Labrinth, who seems to be growing in popularity stateside (he appeared on Mike Posner’s At Night, Alone recently). Tender at times while gritty at others, “Fragile” is among the stronger moments of the album. Labrinth’s vocal grit coupled with Kygo’s knack for musical nuance make for a beautiful union.
Penultimate number “Carry Me,” featuring Julia Michaels, has a tough act to follow. Sound it is, it’s not the most memorable offering. Closer “For What It’s Worth” features Angus Stone and Julia Stone. One pro is the fact that it’s different from the majority of cuts that precede it. A con? At this point, Cloud Nine runs a bit long, even sitting just under an hour.
All in all, Cloud Nine is a well-rounded electronic album. It’s not perfect, but there’s more than enough for the listener to sink their teeth into and be satisfied. As aforementioned, even at just under an hour, a few songs could’ve been trimmed and Cloud Nine would’ve been more tightly constructed and better rounded. Even as it stands, Kygo is definitely an artist to watch.
Favorites: “Fiction,” “Raging,” “I’m In Love,” “Oasis” and “Fragile”
Kygo • Cloud Nine • Sony • Release Date: 5.13.16