Dutch DJ Tiësto is like clubland's equivalent to J.R.R. Tolkien's one ring. The recipient of multiple "world's number one DJ" awards from DJ magazine and other publications, this arena-size attraction is the one who rules them all. There are also plenty of anti-trance advocates, of course, who would love to see him thrown into the heart of Mount Doom. But Tiësto has gathered a band of unlikely associates to try to bring balance to the Force. OK, mixed metaphor, but Tiësto's latest album, Kaleidoscope, is a disorienting concept, an odd 17-track beast that blends big-room instrumentation with indie-rock vocalists, and as a result, it equally confuses and amuses.
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There is an aspect of Tiësto that is comparable to Star Wars, however. The spectacle he compiles has facets of religious experience mixed with both alien and antiquated technology. And his fans, who throw their eyes and spindly arms like antennae toward the heavens in their herald's presence, are fiercely loyal. Tiësto doesn't appear to have yet made his Episode One misstep, though his latest disc might be a shock to those searching for manic abandon.
What is surprising is that with Kaleidoscope, his fourth full-length artist album, Tiësto has added something new to his bag of tricks: a little restraint. Vocalists, no matter how atypical for the genre (and atypical is putting it lightly for the harmonic contributions of Sigur Ros's Jónsi and Tegan & Sara) are reserved a reasonable amount of sonic real estate so they don't have to chew the trance scenery. That isn't to say there aren't swells or ping-ponging melodies. Most tracks head toward blow-up prog territory in their second half. Perhaps it's to make up for the lack of compelling instrumentals, a style previously one of Tiësto's strengths.
Really, what Kaleidoscope brings to mind is Paul Oakenfold's 2002 album, Bunkka. There comes a point in every DJ's career when he seems to want to go full-on producer and try for the pop charts. Kaleidoscope and Bunkka differ, however, in that Oakenfold watered things down to go completely commercial; here Tiësto mixes things up. There's less of a stench of desperation and more of a seeming quest for indie cred (tracks with Nelly Furtado and Cary Brothers aside).
There's also a touch of Moby-style widescreen bliss, some ambient beds, as well as the occasional buildup. But there are no anthems. Only time will tell whether Kaleidoscope will earn Tiësto another gold ring. Regardless, the album, semi-successful as it is, certainly is a fascinating fellowship.