Thursday, July 22, 2021

Arriving just in time for summer, KAWALA’s debut mixtape ‘Paradise Heights’ is a collection of rhythmic, laidback and hopeful tracks

KAWALA are an on-the-rise musical duo comprised of Jim Higson on vocals and Daniel McCarthy on acoustic guitar and vocals. 

The London natives have inspired comparisons to Vampire Weekend and Half Moon Run and have produced consistently infectious and catchy music since their debut in 2017.

Talking to NME, the band describes their sound as “like all the worst parts of indie, folk, afrobeat and pop combined to make something quite bizarre”. 

Their latest offering shows how they have played around with these different elements, whilst staying true to the sonic niche they have carved out for themselves with their previous releases.

Paradise Heights’ is the band’s first mixtape, after previous releases consisting of EPs and singles. This new venture promises a sunny warmth that masks surprising emotional depth. 


What is most striking about these tracks are their duality. The breezy and uplifting instrumentals accompany, what is often, profound lyricism. ‘Angry Man’ is a reflection on toxic masculinity and the difficulty of male emotional expression, set to a folky guitar with a soaring chorus. ‘Back of my Hand’ is a gorgeous metaphorical unpacking of childhood nostalgia, disrupted by an adult perspective. 


Chasing/Wasting Time’, which spins around a rhythm similar to that of Bombay Bicycle Club, muses on the pressure of life as a race, with lyrics such as “you’re just one of the fifty chasing the sun / maybe you won’t be the one”. ‘Chasing/Wasting Time’, ‘Angry Man’, ‘Ticket to Ride’ and ‘1000000x Better’ have all been released as singles. Their inclusion on this mixtape puts them in a new light. Here, they are part of a multidimensional and optimistic project, promoting hopefulness.


KAWALA’s cover of the Griff and HONNE track ‘1000000x Better’ reinvents the original electronic tune as a stripped-back summery track. Low strumming accompanies the vocals, which grow during the pre-chorus of “I got clouds hanging over my head / I get irrational, crazy, upset” and then bursts into the triumphant chorus of “you pick me back up and / you tell me it’s okay”.


Ticket to Ride’ is an alt-pop, floaty tune that makes for a perfect summer evening listening. Layered vocals are accompanied by a laidback guitar and the chorus seems to dance over the breezy musical backing. The bridge, with its expression of “just lead me away from here…” sets up a balance between the song’s smooth lyricism and sonic flow.


Back of my Hand’ begins slowly and melodically, with just a stripped-back guitar that immediately evokes a sense of nostalgia. The lyrics reinforce this and complement the chilled, calming strum of the backing track, with lines such as “I knew this place like the back of my hand / but hands change over time and get much harder to read”. The undertone of sadness is moving but this song still feels made for swaying along to on warm summer days.


Finally, ‘Arms Wide Open’ is an optimistic and light conclusion to the mixtape. The musical backing feels like lapping waves and the lyrics reassure a loved one of their continued love and support: “if you feel alone and up in space again / an island on your own for waves to break against…”, “I’ll keep my arms wide open”. The transitions between slow and meaningful lyricism and riff-filled, upbeat instrumentals are effortless throughout the mixtape. 


Paradise Heights’ provides six enjoyable and worthy additions to KAWALA’s growing discography. There is no doubt that this mixtape will draw even more listeners into the band’s enticing musical universe. You can listen to it on streaming platforms from the 23rd of July.


The band are slated for live gigs at Latitude Festival, 110 Above Festival, Arboretum Sunsets Festival and TRNSMT Festival, and are heading out on tour at the end of the year.


Eleanor Burleigh


Image: Paradise Heights Official Album Cover (PRESS)

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