Review Summary: k-os gets the message across with an album that's as far from the melting pot ideology as the country it came from.
Canada and its encompassing music scenes are really pretty interesting. Due to the nature of this nation, a nation where the focus is on other cultures coming together, it can be said that we sometimes neglect forming a culture of our own. Canadian culture, and therefore Canadian music, is a result of all its surrounding bodies.
Enter Kevin Brereton. Originally born in Trinidad, Kevin, better known as k-os, is a Canadian recording artist. k-os
is a self-proclaimed saviour to hip-hop, and with his third album, the quintessentially Canadian Atlantis: Hymns for Disco
, I think I'm starting to believe him. You see, the Canadian hip-hop scene is a constant struggle. Being from such a diverse nation, the Canadian hip-hop scene is consistently trying to find its own voice, its own sound. This translates back to k-os, an artist known for slipping through genres with ease. This is what makes Trinidadian-born k-os so intrinsically Canadian.
His first album, Exit
, was definitely a more traditionally rooted hip-hop album in comparison to his second album, Joyful Rebellion
. For his third album, k-os said he would be revisiting the underground, a statement that only proves half-true in the end. This album --while in spirit is so hip-hop it hurts-- doesn't sound like a man returning to the MC-Underground. Anybody expecting Exit: The Seekwill
is going to be disappointed. Anybody expecting k-os to limit his influences to hip-hop will be disappointed. Then again, anybody expecting k-os to do anything but evolve really doesn't understand where he's coming from.
Atlantis: Hymns for Disco came seemingly out of nowhere. I knew it was coming out, but I had no idea when. I saw the video for ELEctrik HeaT – the seekwiLL
on MuchMusic weeks before its release, but still, October 10th came out of nowhere. I had no idea what to expect, and even after having listened to this album dozens of times, I still sort of don't. This album is inherently Canadian because it doesn't follow the melting pot ideology. Rather than taking hints of blues, soul, jazz, funk, electro-pop and the like, compressing it and tossing it into a hip-hop cauldron, k-os mixes them on the spot. He is an emcee; he's just an emcee with soul, jazz and classical backgrounds. This is what makes him special.
The aforementioned seekwiLL
kicks the album of in B-Boy Stance
-like throwback style, but this time around Kevin reminds us instantly of his singing ability. The Rain
is a flat-out blues influenced track; complete with Omar Rodriguez like psychedelic guitar touches (minus the Omar-like touches of terrible), this track is also the first on the album to feature full fledged string arrangements, which were composed in part by k-os himself. The viola, violins and cello are implemented in the most subtle of fashions, serving emphatically to a continually building sense of contrast to k-os' soft spoken style of singing. FlyPaper
, starting off with a retro-sounding commercial of sorts is, in a sense, Crabbuckit: the seekwiLL
. This is no accident, because as the lyrics state, "I'm not one to repeat myself, but if it ain't broken, don't fix it
". The track, while less of a Hit The Road, Jack
homage, features the very same clapping and tempo as the 2004 smash, but is in everyway an evolved sound. It's everything Crabbuckit was and more, and undoubtedly one of the stronger moments on the album. FlyPaper is special because it's than a simple reminder, it's explicitly Kevin. Flypaper is more or less his way of explaining his music; the styles he's building upon are not broken, so rather than compressing them or adapting them to a more straightforward sounding hip-hop sound, he'd rather take it and add a hip-hop flair. This is something you'll find throughout the entire album.
, k-os has officially changed the proverbial game. His tasteful use of string-arrangements, used only when necessary, is near-flawless. He flexes his diversity muscles several times a track, yet never does it become overbearing. Equalizer
starts off a harder edged rock & roll track, but wastes no time turning to Sam Robert's (whose featured on Valhalla) style alternative rock. And as a twiddling piano carries reverence for Jimi Hendrix, things change again. Sunday Morning
, a Lou Reed lyrical homage, sounds right out of the 80s, and speaks to something we all know: sure, Saturday nights are quite often a night to remember, but what about Sunday morning?
I could go on for days describing the sounds on this album, and before I end up mentioning every track one at a time, I'm going to hold myself back. This album shows that k-os, a man often seen wandering the streets of Toronto, understands his city (and on a larger note, his country). He understands the struggle Canadian music has finding its own sound, and so instead of revolutionizing the proverbial game by creating something entirely new, he instead wears his influences on his sleeve. He gives respite to other hip-hop artists, as an album like this is surely an indicator that you can do your own thing while all the while remaining a part of a certain culture. That is the beauty of this album; it's got dub, it's got blues, there's plenty of soul and k-os never forgets the funk, yet as a whole, this is a hip-hop album. Like mirror in the Sky
so clearly puts it, k-os is a man all dressed up with no real place to go. Instead, he wanders the streets of a city ruled by diversity and takes it all in, one step at a time.
Upon listening to this album for the first time, I was sort of left wondering. I definitely liked the album, I just didn't know what to say about it. But here comes the album's real success: I listened to it a lot. I listened to this several times a day for about a week, and I still listen to it fairly often. This album, while accessible, is as dense as the nation from which it spawns. While k-os has become more subtle in his goal to save hip-hop, I think he might have actually gone and done it. The only real complaint I have is purely a personal one; Buck 65
. I will make no secret that I find Buck 65 to be utterly useless, and there's not a single thing about the man I appreciate. And so, as you'd imagine, I'm less than impressed with his part on the closing epic ballad of Noah
, but there is just a minor complaint to a bigger picture, especially when you consider it's probably the strongest song on the album. It's hard to call this a classic, but it's definitely a catalyst to something great. It makes the listener look a little closer, and to me, that is truly successful art. Whether you're disappointed upon looking closer, the fact it managed to suck you in is definitely saying something.
His MCing may falter at times, but this album shows k-os' true ability as a singer, songwriter and composer. This is the first album I've heard that truly defines how I feel about the Canadian music scene, or the country in general. This is everything coming together, and much like many other Canadian artists, it shows everybody working together to achieve a common goal; good music. An endless struggle, you could call this the first step towards something great, though he still may be a little too messianic for his own good; here's hoping it doesn't come back to bite him in the ass. This is not an album for all hip-hop heads, but rather an album for everyone. The local references are a nice-addition, the reminiscent throwback passages are a nice touch, but one thing I could do without is the inanely-unnecessary capitalization of certain tracks. Oh well, it's a really solid album, front to back. While the album could have had some stronger musical points, it really seems to do what k-os had always intended; it says something. It gets people talking. Is it rock? Is it hip-hop? All I know is it's a pretty solid album, front to back.
If you live in Canada, this should only cost $9.99, so you've got no excuse and nothing to lose. Give it a shot. It's in your best interest to really ignore the rating I give this as well.