Toronto-born and American-bred Kai Exos delivers a more than promising debut with Telegraph. Exos started training in classical piano alongside his church's Southern Baptist gospel choir at the age of four, and you can clearly hear those influences on opener and first single "Vigilante." Despite its title, the song's not a tribute to Charles Bronson, but an ode to the maternal love and guidance Exos' mother. With Exos' earnest vocals, poignant lyrics and a Gospel chorus that's driven by a buoyant hip-hop bounce, the cut's an excellent addition to a second Sunday in May playlist.
Bruno Mars might be a point of reference, yet Exos' proves himself a capable stylist, more than adept with crisp neo-Motown grooves (slice-of-life snapshot of "Joe"), back porch Memphis soul ("Morning Song") and smoothed-out analog funk ("These Days"). Dreaded auto-tune rears its head on the overproduced ballads "Strawberry" and "Goin' Away" — both of which sound more like concessions to mainstream radio than genuine songs — but the album closes strong with "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "Gold," stripped-down showcases for Exos' refined vocals. If Telegraph is any indication, Kai Exos is a cat with a bright future ahead. (Independent)