Album Review: Tiësto – Kaleidoscope

Tiësto is a puzzle. The name screams dirty trance, bred in the sweaty clubs of the underground scene. And he was happy with that predetermined image… for a time. The three time “World’s No.1 DJ” has now dropped the DJ acronym from his name altogether. In tandem with this, his fourth album seems driven by some new ambition — maybe he was bored of just being “the best”?

For Kaleidoscope, Tiësto has waded into unknown territory, attempting to do with indie what N.A.S.A. tried with hip hop. He has, however, succeeded where N.A.S.A. failed. The Spirit Of Apollo was crammed, featuring some 30 featuring artist over 17 tracks. When the collaborations worked (see “Gifted” “Whatchadoin?”) there were smiles all around, but a number of tracks were under-developed or featured incompatible artists on the same song.

The execution on Kaleidoscope draws from these mistakes, with featuring acts randomly spread across the album. Upon hearing each track it’s obvious that the contributions have been selected with a great deal of care. Intentions are laid bare with a 7 minute opus on the opening title track, featuring Sigur Rós’ lead singer Jónsi. The song builds in tune with Rós’ recent efforts, but Tiësto’s influence is also clearly felt.

“You Are My Diamond” is sure to incite riots in the club, but it’s just trance-pop (circa early 2000’s) and there is nothing to suggest this hasn’t been festering for years. The vocals are cheesy, forgettable and on the 17 track album this wouldn’t be missed. Fortunately, this is followed by one of the strongest tracks, lead single “I Will Be Here”. The collaboration with Sneaky Sound System is a straight club anthem, building on a scattergun drum sample until the synth drop. And what a sound to behold it is, with a lyrical hook on the right side of vagueness: “When the big road falls apart /And you think that the feeling will linger/You need somewhere to start”. The video is also worth a few viewings (best robot dance… ever).

It’s not all big names — relative unknown Priscilla Ahn has surely set up a career in trance vocals with her fey turn on “I Am Strong”. The crucial decision was to allow one featured artist per song, and I struggle to think of a song where another artist would better suit the intended sound. Tiësto is clearly a taskmaster, taking the involved acts out of their comfort zone — indie rock singer-songwriter Cary Brothers lays down an emotionally charged vocal track on “Here On Earth”, which turns out to be a strangely affecting song.

Kele Okereke builds his fledgling relationship on “It’s Not The Things You Say”, which sounds like a direct follow up of Bloc Party’s latest single “One More Chance” (coincidentally remixed by Tiësto). Piano and processed beats are the hallmarks, as on the aforementioned single. Nelly Furtado guests on “Who Wants To Be Alone” whilst Tegan and Sara take vocal duties on “Feel It In My Bones” — this double whammy is probably the clearest show of ambition, and both are triumphs.

Emily Haines of Metric sizzles on “Knock You Out”, a pulsating club anthem with catchy lick “You got to knock me out, some other way”. The bridge is perfectly constructed, cutting away the bass and adding echo “High-ah-ah-oh-hopes” before ramping it up again. All hell breaks loose. The bombastic “Louder Than Boom” is a thrill-ride, lacing in Atari effects until you feel like a punch drug teenager, high on Contra. It is one of few instrumental tracks, although Tiësto pulls of the balancing act with consummate ease, saving the biggest beats for the club tracks and amping up the musicality for the collaborative efforts.

This album will no doubt polarize opinion, as Tiësto has turned his back on his past in a number of ways. This is not trance music, but from an objective viewpoint this is far more original than any of his older efforts. That it is commercially focused seems to incite rage in his loyal followers.

It was a good choice to make. This album is exciting — the collaborations are perfectly pitched, and it’s a thrill to see what Tiësto will design to accommodate each artist. As is normal with these collaboration albums, there isn’t really any sense of cohesiveness, but this is substituted by a raw quality that gives the songs themselves individual chart potential. In (now) typically overblown fashion, the accompanying world tour will take in 150 dates and 5 continents. “World’s No. 1 DJ”? What’s that when you can target best musician in the world?

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