Review Summary: Dance music's steady rhythms can feel fairly unmusical. Tiesto does his best to create interest where the genre often lacks.
I've had something of a strained relationship with electronic dance music. As soon as its crescendos first caught my ears I was made a fan and diligently began to take my first fumbling steps to learn as much as I could about my new love . However, I immediately ran into a simple yet obvious problem; dance music is just that, music for dancing. My ear had been trained by rock and was stubbornly refusing to accept the pounding rhythms that are so effective on the dance floor as musical. Now, I'm definitely not going to put the genre down because is meant to be experienced in a totally different way from other music, but the fact of the matter is that dance tunes rarely stack up against their counterparts when judged on the same scale. This brings me to the reason I chose to review Kaleidoscope in the first place. No mater how I look at it, this is a very strong album.
The nature of trance music makes monotony a threat to the listenability of any dance based album and this time around Tiesto has gone to great lengths to avoid it. Almost all of the songs on Kaleidoscope feature vocalists and there is rock-like a tendency towards the variation in the music that would normally come about due to improvisation and chemistry in a band. "Escape Me" tries particularly hard with synthesizers mimicking guitar player, bass player, and drummer to create interest while never losing its bouncy stride. The sound quality and production of the album also reflect Tiesto's confidence and skill. There is no drenching of reverb to make the songs sound as though they are being played in a huge stadium, Tiesto doesn't need a huge echoey sound to make a huge album. The opening title track is proof of this, sporting one of the most gigantic buildups I've ever experienced in a song. The end result is an album that, despite its dancy qualities, you can still comfortably sit down and listen to it.
The vocalists featured on this album really take the front seat whenever they are employed. This results in some of the poorer singers tending to ruin their tracks and the instrumental numbers feeling like throwaways. I don't really know what it is about male vocalists on trance tunes, but half the time they just feel out of place. All the male singers on Kaleidoscope excluding Jonsi sounded throaty and tense. Conversely Sigur Ros's champion delivered a beautifully layered tapestry of falsetto. In fact, most of the big names featured lived up to and surpassed my expectations. The use of Tegan & Sarah's voices made for an intensely memorable track with "Feel it in my Bones" and I have to say I enjoyed "Knock Me Out" quite a bit more than any of Emily Haines' other work. For the life of me I can't figure out which tracks are collaborations and which ones lift the voices from their respective originals, but since we are more concerned with Tiesto's work than his featured singers I can remain content leaving it ambiguous.
So how does Kaleidoscope stand? There is a disconcerting lack of consistency in the tracks themselves. The instrumentals float through the mind without making any particular effort to stick and even some of the vocal tracks feel like weary attempts to mimic the standouts. The great songs however are truly marvelous and fairly abundant. The title track is spine tingling in the extreme, and C.C Sheffield's bitter gripe on "Escape Me" puts a gut-wrenching twist on the classic trance euphoria. Frustratingly one of my favorites off this album is an itunes bonus and thus didn't come on the CD I bought; "Bad Behavior" featuring Dizzy Rascal sports a seamless fusion of rap and dance music that puts to shame any and all of the club music that has become so rampant in the American Top 40. The bassline is sick, Dizzee sounds convincingly badass and the pads are gigantic so why in the world "Bad Behavior" didn't make it into the legitimate tracklist is totally beyond me.
Regardless of the occasional stumble Kaleidoscope is a strong effort and I am happy to recommend it to any one who hasn't yet given it a chance. Good dance music can be painfully hard to find with so much of it being monotonous and boring. Tiesto's latest feels like a step in a promising new direction and hopefully his next release will be more consistent once he has time to get comfortable. Expect great things in the man's future.