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Music Review: k-os – Atlantis: Hymns for Disco

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There is a depth to Atlantis: Hymns for Disco, the latest album from Toronto hip-hop artist k-os, that defies easy categorization. Few artists are able to mash together multiple genres with such ease; virtually every track on Atlantis is a mixture of disparate musical styles, yet the lyrical and sonic threads that run through the album give it a cohesive feel. The result is a piece of work that is both instantly likeable and richly rewarding after multiple spins.

This is the third album for k-os. 2002's Exit and 2004's Joyful Rebellion both won him critical acclaim and several industry awards in Canada and elsewhere. In between those projects, a k-os collaboration with The Chemical Brothers on "Get Yourself High" earned a Grammy nomination for "Best Dance Recording".

Since being released in Canada in October 2006, Atlantis: Hymns for Disco has been nominated for five 2007 Juno Awards: "Pop Album of the Year", "Single of the Year" ("Sunday Morning"), "Songwriter of the Year", "Jack Richardson Producer of the Year", and "Video of the Year".

Atlantis: Hymns for Disco is a soulful album with a lot of personality. k-os sings more than he raps on this album, demonstrating an admirable vocal range and a solid knack for melody. Live instruments, including drums, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, strings and horns lend a sense of immediacy to the music, while breakbeats, samples, scratching, and synthesized keyboard effects keep it rooted solidly in the hip-hop vein on most of the 14 tracks.

k-os - Atlantis: Hymns for DiscoIn addition to first single "Sunday Morning", there are several other standout tracks on Atlantis: Hymns for Disco. "ELEctrik HeaT – the seekwiLL" is classic hip-hop with k-os slinging rapid-fire rhymes over a Public Enemy-style drum groove and some excellent turntable work. On "The Rain", an authentic nod to old school R & B, k-os sings about lost love while a piano plunks out a simple 6/8 rhythm pattern accompanied by live drums, strings, and a guitar solo that brings the song to an emotional close.

"Mirror in the Sky" is a reggae-infused romp featuring driving bass and drums and atmospheric guitar that brings to mind some of Andy Summers work with The Police. The next song, "Born to Run", brings to mind some of the '80s New Wave music that married rock, reggae, and pop, until the coda, where k-os reprises the chorus in a 4 a.m. voice, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar.

"Ballad of Noah" and "Valhalla", the latter featuring college-rocker Sam Roberts and Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew, are personal favorites that are best listened to at full volume.

Atlantis: Hymns for Disco is an immediately accessible album that will satisfy those folks who prefer to consume their music one downloaded hit at a time, but repeated listening of the entire album continues to reveal layers of musical and lyrical depth that will school you in the ways of a true hip-hop artist.

Atlantis: Hymns for Disco will be released in the United States on Tuesday, February 20th. k-os is scheduled to perform on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on February 20th (CBS, 11:35 EST, 10:35 CST).

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About Eric Friesen