Kygo has chosen an amazingly talented and rapturous array of singers with whom to work, each of them contributing greatly to the overall product.
Cloud Nine, the first album from Norwegian electronic-house-dance powerhouse Kygo is everything it’s hyped to be: “unfailingly gorgeous”; “a turning point in dance music”; “a milestone” in the producer’s career.
But I get ahead of myself. In general, I have two problems with production-led albums: songs written by the instrumentalist yet sung by guest vocalists. This almost always results in an extremely uneven release, with each song taking on the aura of its singer. Case in point: The only song I like from Big Data is “Dangerous,” and the only one from Daft Punk on my iPod is the admittedly overplayed but catchy as hell “Get Lucky” (yeah, yeah, I know: Lots of you will find this blasphemy—but I’m a pop girl, not a house-trance fan).
In Kygo’s case, it was a Tom Odell–fronted song that made me want to listen to Cloud Nine. I didn’t expect much—which almost makes it better, as disappointment isn’t a risk. I was more than pleasantly surprised, though, when I realized this is a consistently strong—and consistent—album from start to finish. Here, Kygo has chosen an amazingly talented and rapturous array of singers with whom to work, each of them contributing greatly to the overall product.
After a two-minute instrumental intro comes “Stole the Show” feat. Parson James. His interesting and captivating voice elevates the simple piano and percussion track from musing to moving. As expected (OK, I did have one expectation), “Fiction” feat. Tom Odell is beautiful, his heartbreaking and rich falsetto turning a simple dance beat into a soaring masterpiece. Irish indie rockers Kodaline assume vocal duties on “Raging,” which would be at home on anything from an electronic record to a troubadour offering.
We get another taste of falsetto from Conrad Sewell on “Firestone,” its bouncy keys and programming recalling ’80s dance floors. John Legend adds his soulful pipes to “Happy Birthday,” a simmering slow burn of a song. On “I’m in Love” feat. James Vincent McMorrow, Kygo shows his smooth R&B moves; from this track, you’d never guess he’s a heralded dance artist. Just as “Oasis” makes good use of Foxes’ searching vocals, “Not Alone” feat. RHODES plays up the British crooner’s strengths.
Carefully plucked percussive sounds over gentle instrumentals and smoldering vocals make “Serious” feat. Matt Corby one of my favorite tracks. “Stay” feat. Maty Noyes is a marriage of mellow soul, indie rock, and pop; thanks to strong vocals, both the Will Heard–led “Nothing Left” and “Fragile” feat. Labrinth have more than a bit of ’70s soul. I’m not much for female vocalists, so by the time “Carry Me” feat. Julia Michaels rolls around—the third female-led song on the disc—I’ve had my fill. Luckily, Kygo brings it all home with “For What It’s Worth” feat. Angus and Julia Stone. His drawl and falsetto offerings paired with her dreamy background vocals, make this a great bookend to a solid debut. Kygo is one to watch, indeed. B+ | Laura Hamlett