With Brookes’ biography claiming he is ‘not your stereotypical folk bard’ Kairos goes some distance to prove this statement true. Celestial opener ‘Intro’ is as far a deviation from ‘folk bard’ as one could conjure, the atmospheric intensity reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘King of Limbs’, haunting, disorientating and beautifully delivered. When this fades into second track ‘Numb’, a promising album begins to shape. Gentle guitars blend into whistles and shuffling drums whilst Brookes’ incredible vocal acrobatics flaw. Influences of Jeff Buckley permeate through like some haunting vocal doppelgänger. Brookes has a deserved confidence in his vocal abilities and it is this above all else that sets him apart from other progressive folk singers. Crafting ‘Sound of Silence’ style harmonies, interwoven into many layers of vocals already present, constructs an encapsulating sonic experience. Mild synthesizer undercut and the dream like trance promised in ‘Intro’ come to fruition. Kairos begins to sound like a dream.
Unfortunately so quickly the promise seems shattered. Kairos is an album simmering with creativity, yet it suffers from its inability to know exactly what it wants to be. Third track ‘James’, which may very well be the most promising radio friendly offering on the album, dilutes the intensity of the beginning, initially leaving a wonder as to whether random play had enabled itself. A melodic, shiny pop song, something of a white elephant, suddenly barges its way onto the album. It’s not a bad song by any means; it just doesn’t belong after the beautiful leading introduction to Kairos that’s come before it.
What proves to be even more infuriating is when fourth track ‘Crazy World and You’ begins and it’s apparent that the album as a whole would benefit drastically from some more intelligent song arrangement. Picking up where ‘Numb’ left off, ‘Crazy World and You’ again invokes Jeff Buckley ghostly effect and brings Kairos onto the same tracks it began on, as though ‘James’ never happened. ‘Frequency’ follows and is a genius composition, suggestive of John Martin’s beautiful brooding 70’s heyday. Brookes is a powerhouse of soul crushing folk that strips back all musical gimmicks, bells and whistles, revealing a deep understanding and respect for his craft.
At its best Kairos is a haunting pleasure, evoking and powerful; at its worst it’s a mish mash of emotionally evocative masterpieces and pandering pop tunes. With every listen it alters, either an album with some blips or an album ruined by its own lack of integrity. Sam Brookes is undoubtedly an exceptional talent but possibly lacks the intuition to know when to serve his own vision and not the commercial’s. Saying all that listen to the good bits, because they are great.