While eighth American Idol winner Kris Allen is still perhaps best-known on the pop scene for “somehow” beating Adam Lambert to claim his victory, ardent fans of the Arkansas singer-songwriter know better than to undervalue his talents. Since his Idol win, Allen has previously released two studio LPs to critical acclaim, but not-so-critically grand sales. Whether it was due to the unfortunate reputation that coming from off of a reality show gives to some of its constituents or a label that didn’t dare to care because of an allusion to such reputations (or something else entirely), he was dropped from RCA Records shortly after his sophomore release, Thank You Camellia. That didn’t stop him from seeking vaster opportunities, though, and here he is now with an all-new release in the form of aptly-titled Horizons.
Having given himself 2 years and a world’s worth of career experiences in between Thank You Camellia and now, the depth of Allen’s growth is as extensive as it is astounding. This is not the first time that we’d heard a go-getter attitude emit from his music in a way that proclaimed “I’m better than you’d think,” but it’s the first time that I can take it seriously.
Maybe it’s the fact that, now being freed from a label, he’s essentially free to do whatever he wants, sonically or otherwise. Maybe it’s the fact that Grammy-winning Civil Wars producer Charlie Peacock had decided to team up with him to produce the album. Maybe it’s just as aged wine, with Allen only getting better with time and experience, or maybe it’s an amalgamation of all three of those things. Kris Allen was always a good songwriter capable of producing an infectious hook teeming with vibrant personality, but he never sold a song quite as well as he does on Horizons.
Opening with a hopeful, articulate picking of an island-toned guitar with airy percussion to boot alongside the equally as sanguine lyricism and vocal delivery of “Young Love”, one can tell right out of the gate that what they’re getting is what is easily Allen’s best effort yet. For those who are musically clairvoyant, just a single listen to the first cut on this LP would signal to listeners the type of coolly laidback album this is – rambunctious, to a point, fun-loving, sure, but never overbearing. Everything comes out non-dramatically and fresh, or warm like a just-made Pillsbury biscuit, yet certifiably better than anything only partly homemade.
The late 70s/early 80s singer-songwriter vibe emphasized by the serene, introspective minds of performers like James Taylor and Cat Stevens continues on in “Prove It To You”, but not without a modern spin in its introduction of light synth and bass percussion. Still more eminent on the track are folk elements—perhaps harking to Peacock’s prior work with The Civil Wars—in the moving string accompaniment paired with the dual vocals of Allen and Russian-born singer Lenachka. The two play off of each other beautifully, accentuating the heartbroken plea of which the song is constructed through to an immaculate degree.
On an LP with as carefree and easy-going a sensation as is emitted through Horizons, Allen is still intent on making audiences dance. It’s in “Beautiful & Wild” and the sardonically-entitled “Everybody Just Wants To Dance” that this is most evident, with the former invoking a contagiously-delivered “la la la” amongst its chorus and the latter inviting more light synth and funky bass lines to the party alongside a chirpy, impish vocal that’s hard not to jive to… evenat your work desk.
Of course, a Kris Allen album just would not feel complete without a heartfelt ballad or two, even with the new set of rules as a totally indie artist in tow. “It’s Always You” is the more time-honored, formulaic ballad quintessential to Kris’ musical design. It’s the archetype of the archetypes, though, featuring more of a passionate wallop to the heart than you could’ve ever hoped to have.
For what’s arguably the first time in the Idol winner’s history, in Horizons, Kris Allen has delivered fans an album that is undeniably him. In his rawest state as a songwriter is where he comes out as his purest self, and it shows in the way that this album has been produced. The only real bummer is that it clocks in at just under 40 minutes. While it may be short, however, it is most certainly sweet. He and Charlie have produced a real stunner here, and it makes me eager to hear whatever he’s got on the way for us in the future.
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