I still recall the day when I first heard Kris Allen pull off his tremendous cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless” on American Idol in 2009. Some said it was that one performance that truly solidified his position as a genuine contender on the show, but what the two-minute snippet did for me personally was fire up my interest in the singer-songwriter genre. His truncated rendition of the rap hit wasn’t only clever, but it also shone for all that emotion and delicate execution pumped into it.
Five years after being accorded the title of American Idol, Kris Allen still keeps to the same path that he first set out on. His acoustic rock persona hasn’t changed much on his latest effort Horizons, but the singer-songwriter has certainly matured in his songwriting. Having gone through a major health scare in 2013 with an unfortunate car accident, it’s no surprise that he pens the ten-track document from a place of genuine thankfulness and gratitude. Each track presents itself as a product of his heart, serving as a mark of where he is in his life and the kind of positive spirit that he chooses to exude.
The album opens perfectly with the energetic “Young Love”, in which he sets the tone for the rest of the tracks with its lively instrumentation and fast-paced guitar fills. You can almost feel the joy emanating from the crooner as he bursts with positivity and hope through spirited vocals on words such as “Tell me your dreams / And I’ll make them come true.” It’s the bright spirit behind this frisky opener that carries on throughout the album, reminiscent of the vibes that Jason Mraz regularly evokes in his music. The happy-go-lucky number “Everybody Just Wants to Dance” is a continuation of that with light falsettos and airy electronic touches all around. Allen is here to spread those good vibes, and you’re bound to be in a celebratory mood with him after this one.
Considering his past accolades, there are always bound to be more pop-influenced tracks – those that we would consider ‘radio-ready’. “Parachute” is one that fits this category with its emotion-driven vibes carried by a mid-tempo rhythm – the kind of anthem that will be on replay for months to come if it gets pushed as a single. “Beautiful & Wild” is another rhythmic number that comes under the ‘radio-ready’ category, as Allen puts those positive vibes on display yet again with his ambitious lyrics and passion.
Things take a turn for the melancholic with “Lost”, a soulful piano-driven piece that stands out as one of the defining moments of the album. If anyone dares to claim that some of the authenticity and heart that won him the AI title five years ago has faded, this track is the perfect reply to that. It’s everything that we love about Allen packed neatly in three minutes and eighteen seconds of delightful harmonies and convicted instrumentation as he belts his musings on tape. He takes special care in keeping his songs open and universal not only here but on “In Time” as well. We see a real purpose to his songwriting on tracks like this, coming across as an example of how music can truly be uplifting and therapeutic when instrumental dynamicity and heartfelt lyrics are put together.
While the choice of pushing the light-hearted yet underwhelming track “Prove It to You” as a lead single is certainly questionable (Lenachka does provide lovely vocal contributions though), we do see Allen step outside of his musical boundaries on “Don’t Set Me Free”. Groovy bass lines and fuzz-infused guitar fills drive the upbeat number, emerging as the kind of summer sing-along we love to keep for road trips. We even hear slight rock ‘n’ roll influences on this one, including the straight funk style that we love The Eagles for.
Despite such instances of experimentation, I can’t help but wish that he’d chosen to delve into more styles and sounds on Horizons. Thankfully, this is where Kris Allen has taken the first step towards that freedom while keeping his roots intact. His songwriting has definitely developed to be more refined over time and this album serves as undeniable evidence of it. Here’s to hoping that our American Idol continues growing not only as a songwriter but as an all-rounded musician as well.