Throughout his career, k-os has been successful experimenting with a blend of rock and hip-hop. But with his newest full-length BLack On BLonde, he has decided to separate the two by choosing the risky double album format. The first half is largely an ode to old school hip-hop, while the second finds itself deeply rooted in rock-n-roll. The name of the album is apparently attributed to both Mos Def and Bob Dylan, which will be strong reference points while listening to Kevin Brereton’s fifth studio offering.
If at all familiar with the k-os catalog, it is clear that one should never approach a new album with any sort of expectations. His creative vision tends to always be two steps ahead of the listener. As is the case when you first hit play on this full-length, where you are met with a synth-induced trap beat, followed up by incredibly cheesy vocals. But who is that shameless singer on the hook? Oh, just Corey Hart, the ’80s heart throb who hasn’t been able to touch the U.S. charts since the early ’90s. To say the least, things are confusing on that first song, but Rich Kidd’s production brings k-os back in the cut with a piano-laden “Diamond Sky”. Too bad that song remains the only glimmer of hope within the beginning of the BLack side, as things go awry with two miserable pop singles in “NYCE 2 Know Ya” followed by a Travie McCoy-assisted “C.L.A.”. That leaves us at one for four.
Luckily the distasteful start to this album doesn’t hold k-os from falling back into his comfort zone. It appears all he really needed was a breakbeat, which is where the MC shines the most on tracks like “Nobody Else” and “Mojo”. Not to mention the electric guitar-heavy “Try Again”, which sports a guest verse from Black Thought of the Roots. k-os’ lyrical prowess is more intense and revealing than prior pop offerings, too, which helps set these songs in motion. K-os has some other notable features on this album, including a bouncy track with Emily Haines of Metric, and a posse cut with Shad and Saukrates.
With that, we move on to the second half of the album, the BLonde side. Where BLack was driven by hip-hop and pop trends, the former takes on influence from rock’s rich history. Seriously, k-os hits on just about every subgenre that rock has ever seen since the early ’60s. And without wasting any time, we are met with k-os’ most infectious offering “The Dog Is Mine”. But just as the first half was riddled with an array of blunders, it appears BLonde has also lost its way. “Don’t Touch” is a poor man’s working of Paul Simon, while “Alone In My Car” and “Billy Bragg Winners” comes off completely flat on both the vocal and instrumental front. Shades of new wave also find their way onto the album, as “Surfs Up” plows through an irritatingly repetitive power hook that seems too refined compared to the organic roots we have become so accustomed to from k-os.
But all isn’t lost for BLonde, as some of k-os’ overzealous concepts are complemented with ones that seem to make more sense. With gritty vocal effects, k-os takes command of a deep grooving Niel Young sample on “Play This Game”. He then continues to express his love for the rock gods on the Beatles ode, “Wonder Woman (As My Guitar Gently Streets)”. The psychedelic guitar pedals and voice modulation, as well as the melody grabs, are welcome additions to a musical project that attempts to embody a wide array of musical influences without really developing a style of its own.
BLack on BLonde is an ambitious effort, one that k-os wasn’t quite able to execute as effectively as one might hope. Recorded in an abandoned mansion owned by Hayden Christensen in Los Angeles, the double album is perhaps k-os’ most inclusive piece of music to date. But with that, this was ultimately a failed attempt to be everything to everyone. Where k-os might have benefited by excluding some of the awkward collaborations and conflicting styles, it appears his creative vision got the best of him. And just as focus and cohesiveness might have held a project together that seemed to adopt too many styles and lyrical topics, the experimentation yielded a handful of salvageable songs that will sit strongly in k-os’ ever-progressing discography.