2014 Reel Gospel Album of the Year: Kings Kaleidoscope – Becoming Who We Are

by Sam Robinson

Through an opus of intricate melodies, arrangements, and an onslaught of brass, Seattle ten-piece Kings Kaleidoscope unleashed their debut album, Becoming Who We Are last October. This was no ordinary album release; it was a record that had been painstakingly crafted with care, and recorded and produced on a shoestring budget by lead singer Chad Gardner. Forget traditional studio recordings, this album was made on-the-fly at various locations around Seattle, as Gardner told us back in October:

“We recorded the whole record on my laptop. I just got a new MacBook Pro so it was really fast. We were portable, and I had a portable rig. I would actually just borrow really good microphones from all our friends and I made a connection to a guy in Seattle who records a lot of symphonies and choirs. He had some really good ribbon mics and different types of mics for orchestra stuff. So we recorded the drums in a studio that we rented – a grungy punk-rock studio. Then we would take my portable rig from there and go to a couple of different sanctuaries around the city with tall ceilings and really good acoustics, and there we’d record the horns and the strings. Then the guitars and the bass and the synths I did a lot at home, or out – my parents have a farm and I built a little temporary space out there for the summer and I did all the vocals out there. But it’s crazy because if you have a portable studio, which we did, you can find the right environment and room for the different instruments. And then I did a lot of the editing right here in my apartment with my monitors. Basically I’d go out and record horns for four hours on a weeknight and then take it back home and for a day or two edit them and start to mix them, and then figure out what was needed next, then go out to the farm and layer the guitars on it.”

This recording process contributed to the diverse sound of the album, which doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. Tracks such as Felix Culpa, Dreams, I Know and Light After Darkness are prime examples of songs that show the band’s departure from a congregational Sunday worship space. But while many of the tracks on Becoming Who We Are may still be worshipful, this isn’t necessarily the reason why Gardner made the record.

“I know that people are going to be encouraged by the worship songs on the album and that is incredible, but I believe that’s what God is doing with the songs. I’m just singing them because I need to sing them to myself. [Laughs] And whatever else God does with them is a miracle. But I’m not responsible for ‘Hey everybody, here’s these songs, they will change your life.’ I’m singing them to myself. If God speaks through them to other people – that’s amazing – but I’m not responsible for them being moved by the songs. That’s God doing that.”

Not only did Gardner and the band have the challenge of producing an album all over their home city, but personal hardship throughout 2014 added an extra level of pressure and anxiety during production, as evidenced on Zion, a song written about Gardner’s stillborn son. But Gardner acknowledges that God has been at work and shown his goodness during this time.

“Probably one of the biggest evidences of God’s grace in my life this year is that he has given me faith that he is incredibly good. Our family has seen four deaths in the last six months. And God has given me faith that he is good. That’s a gift that I believe that at this point. Who knows where I could be outside of God holding me. And I’m struggling right now with a lot of anxiety, I’ve had basically a nervous breakdown, but still I could be way worse.”

Although this album didn’t top our Readers Poll, many of you voted for it as your favourite of 2014, and here’s what some of you said about why you loved it so much:

“Such a diverse range of sounds on the album, and a clear joy at the grace of God.”

“Epic, intricate, faithful, thrilling, God-honouring, long but not too long, interesting. It makes my heart race like other albums don’t.”

“I’ve had a rough year but this album has been playing on repeat, constantly reminding me that through the times of pain and wherever I may be, there is a wonderful God who loves me.”

“Kings Kaleidoscope’s Becoming Who We Are had to be my favourite album of the year. They have a sound that is not only unique to Christian music, but unique to music as a whole. They combine that sound with spot on theology. It’s a win win.”

“I was a big fan of their earlier EPs, and this one just solidified their awesomeness to me. Horn sections FTW.”

“It is by far the best album in 3-5 years. So uplifting, honest, and well thought out.”

“Fantastic arrangements and very passionate. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next!”

Becoming Who We Are is a triumph of an album, and as I said when I reviewed the album in October, it truly is a very special record. I love the way the album moves from track to track, that it’s not overproduced, and it dwells so much on Christ, the cross, and the hope of the reality of eternal life that is bigger than the pain and anxiety we experience in this fallen and broken world. Calling this album a modern classic fails to do it justice, and our team easily agreed this was the best album of 2014. Congratulations to Kings Kaleidoscope for Becoming Who We Are, the 2014 Reel Gospel Album of the Year.

KingsKaleidoscope-BWWACoverBecoming Who We Are by Kings Kaleidoscope is available now on iTunes. Read more about the album in our conversations with Chad Gardner during production, and just before release.

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