The Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard Of — Kings Kaleidoscope
An Introduction to Why this Creative Group is One of the Best.
Kings Kaleidoscope is a revolving door of like-minded friends and music nerds led by Singer, Songwriter, and Producer Chad Gardner (in Green Beanie).
I argue that they’re the greatest band never mentioned by the likes of critics Anthony Fantano and Robert Christgau;
Nowhere to be seen on sites like Pitchfork, Stereogum, and Rolling Stone, just to name a few.
How come? I can assure you, they’re one of the most creative bands you’ve never heard of. Making colorful arrays of sound with thought-provoking lyricism.
But there’s a reason why they don’t have the wider acclaim.
They make Faith-based music.
It’s not uncommon for Christian, even just religious music in general, to be pigeonholed into a specific niche corner, even when in reality, there‘s only religious lyrics, and never religious chords or keys or anything like that.
There are many flawed nuances in the Christian “genre” that’s definitely worth discussing on another time. Anyway
Even in Christian circles however, Kings K stands out for their wildly artistic and full of musically layered ear-candy,
They’re immaculate in incorporating all kinds of instruments from a whole orchestra to the elusive theremin.
With big Worship bands like Hillsong and Planetshakers roaming around comes an indie group that don’t feel complacent and keep continuing to push the envelope further.
In the now-infamous Mars Hill Church, Kings Kaleidoscope formed in 2010; stemming from a church plant on Washington University.
With a revolving door lineup, Chad stuck as worship leader. As their first live album, Sin, was recorded a year later.
Sin was first played Live as a macabre accompaniment to a Good Friday Service, a service for remembering the death of Jesus Christ.
The Live album showed a variety of influences ranging from Math Rock and Post-punk to Baroque Pop.
Early on, the band showed promise, bringing in a breakaway raw sound that bordered chaotic and gorgeous. But for Sin, it’s certainly darker.
But even with their signature sound at its infancy, the band felt content with it. In particular, after making the album, Chad would think “Now what?”
They released two EPs in 2012 under Mars Hill Music, Asaph’s Arrows in February and the Christmas-themed Joy Has Dawned in November.
Asaph’s Arrows is where we see them amp up diverse orchestral elements and a more brighter, more natural tone in their songs, like on their cover of In Christ Alone and All Creatures.
Joy Has Dawned is milder and warmer in retrospect. Being themed around Christmas, the band gives a more sacred tone in their covers of the title track, and O Holy Night.
Though the band gives a more fleshed out take on these songs as evident in the studio and Live in Season versions.
The band left Mars Hill in 2014, which was having its own internal trouble.
In October of the same year, they released their proper debut under BEC Recordings, Becoming Who We Are.
This album signaled their sound’s greatest progression yet, Bursting onto the scene with sounds so heightened up with insane diversity.
Here, we see them playing with deeper faith-based themes, and elevated instrumentation, further pushing what the band is capable of.
From the experimental cuts like Bloom and Ache to the poignant tracks 139 and Zion to hearty anthems like Seek Your Kingdom, Felix Culpa, Defender, and All Creatures, which was actually from the Asaph’s Arrows EP.
Becoming Who We Are pushed the boundaries of what faith-based music could be; a layered arrangement of all kinds of musical ideas, joyful noise, and chaotic praise.
Personally, This the best entry point to their sound.
In here, they work with the familiar (some old hymns and old songs from theirs) and run with it gracefully. I got into Kings Kaleidoscope myself because of this one.
I highly recommend checking out their Live in Color series, where songs like Felix Culpa are more fleshed out, making it, dare I say, even better than the studio version.
Or their Live cover of the old hymn All Creatures on Live in Focus. Seriously, kudos to any band that sounds just as great when they are Live.
The band returned with Beyond Control released July 2016.
Their sophomore, their second with BEC Recordings, dawned a more grandeur sound, chronicling a loose narrative absorbed by melancholy and times of devotion.
From the band’s bright and assuring debut, Kings K took a more somber turn on Beyond Control. Even on the album’s high points, like on Most of It and In this Ocean, the band still subdues these two with dreary and intimate numbers, like on Dust and In this Ocean Part 2, gracefully so.
From highlights like the songs mentioned and Sabotage/Home, the band confesses their struggles on faithfulness, confidence, and apathy. Though its ambient closer, Trackless Sea, resolves the album cathartically.
Beyond Control is the band’s most successful album, not only charting higher than their debut, but also being the first album many fans heard from them.
But there’s also another reason why people know them… A Prayer.
The band garnered controversy for using the explicit f-word in the album’s penultimate, which is frowned upon in the industry.
Many boycotted the band as a result, and it may have resulted in the band’s radio silence back then; No music videos, Live series, or anything else.
Just a year after, the band took a detour with The Beauty Between, released August 2017.
A postmodern-sounding mixtape that saw them experiment in Hip-hop and more politically charged lyrics. Guest features ranged from Andy Mineo, Braille to Propaganda.
Musically, it’s a quick and condensed summary of what they’ve got so far, only with a steadier rap structure, and it’s all over the place.
From the funky and surreal title track, to the frantic triumph of Alive and Playing with Fire, the pristine and solemn Safe Retreat to the more keyboard-driven Sticks and Stones.
Lyrically, The Beauty Between relishes to take the bigger picture, the wider scope of social issues when it comes to being role models, and ideologies, and all around more convoluted and heavier lyricism.
Songs like Sometimes Phoenix deal with a Prodigal Son-like character, Sticks and Stones deal with blatant organized religion and Mars Hill, being their most famous song to date, to racism and guilt with Playing With Fire.
However, it’s all subdued by Rain, a cathartic and optimistic song that with its woodwind section, alone relieves the project’s sharp edges.
It’s a concise, jam-packed project with elliptical lyricism that actually address everything from their old church, Mars Hill, to racism in the church.
The band mastered the concept album with 2019’s Zeal.
They explore themes of spiritual deconstruction, aka re-evaluating one’s beliefs, and it later turns to an expressive journey that eventually end with a childlike spirit.
It’s more emotionally maximalist than Beyond Control, yet it’s very meticulous and layered in a way.
Musical highlights include the manic and sample-heavy undertones of Hero Over My Head, to the gorgeous orchestra of Aimless Knight, among many others.
Lyrically, it deals with a lot of Biblical concepts, though it too is very poetic and layered. It deals with a lot of jadedness, songs like Backwards and About to Break prove deconstructing is a hard journey.
But later on in the album, the band sees themselves reconstruct their faith, Chad Gardner had this in detail when writing the project:
Tired of deconstructing every part of our faith. The truth we once believed wholeheartedly like children felt hollow.
Swimming in the privilege to overthink everything, judging the church like she wasn’t who Jesus died for.
Flat on the inside, missing the rush of God’s presence, we wrote an album because we needed it for ourselves.
But of course, one can’t talk about this album without The Rush, Zeal’s 3-part climax, symbolizing a sense of unbreakable motivation, a sudden burst of enthusiasm wrapped in its ethereal nature.
I could go and on about this album. It’s not only my personal favorite, but the record alone is chock-full of concepts and lyrical insight worth a story of its own.
I highly recommend listening to this album from start to finish, but also its documentary dealing with the album process, The Adventures of Zeal.
And all of this brings us to now.
Amid the pandemic, Kings K relocated to a cabin in the Pacific Northwest wilderness, calling it Kamp Kaleidoscope.
Kamp Kaleidoscope is where they recorded Live renditions of the albums The Beauty Between and Zeal.
This is where the band recorded their 2020 EP, Power Perfect. A 3-song effort that talks about the troubles of 2020 by looking up to the higher power.
And as of writing, Kings Kaleidoscope has just finished touring in 2022, and is currently writing for their upcoming album, Baptized Imagination.
With already four songs released beforehand, we can get a glimpse of what this is about; healing. Chad has stated it continues the journey in Zeal.
And by the looks of it, it sounds more pristine and slow and savory with its more laid back and introspective value.
As a bit of a music nerd, one that just so happened to have his ears on the Christian music scene, I’m well-aware of its reputation as like a knockoff brand of more secular music.
Worship music, or music played in churches, that’s alright for me, but more contemporary Christian Music (also called CCM) is a beast of its own, with many artists, infamous for its generic tastes and bland to plain bad lyricism.
But within that heap comes collectives and artists like Kings Kaleidoscope, and in a way, that’s what keeps me going. I mean, who else will discuss this rather niche side of music? one that’s not even as religious as you might think.
I hope that one day, Kings Kaleidoscope will become the catalyst for Christian artists to express more creatively, ushering in a more honest, thought-provoking way of composition.
Maybe they already are a catalyst, I don’t really know.
And I’ve heard a lot of ideas about music, that it should be easy to the ear, and easy to comprehend, that it should be for the masses.
But, no matter how hard one may try, a higher, more divine form of artistry will push to exist.
This is an extended version of my original music essay on my Instagram, The Left Ear With Lee. Be sure to follow me here on Medium. Thanks!