By Kings of Convenience
Flashback a few years, and to Bergen, Norway. One of many Scandinavian towns and cities being proclaimed as new centres of cool, two guys released an album called 'Quiet Is The New Loud'. They were Kings of Convenience. Mixing influences like Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel and the Beach Boys, they breathed new life into an alternative music scene bogged down with noisy garage rock and shouty nu-metal.
Sharing their place of origin with electro act Röyksopp, the press suddenly jumped all over the place, and the two rather bookish looking men were thrown into the limelight, along with the other two bookish looking men who make up Röyksopp.
After the NME created the 'new acoustic movement', probably due to the fact that more than one band released an album of acoustic-based music, Kings Of Convenience became a cult band, but also a lost band. For ages, nothing happened. A remix album ('Versus'), a solo album from one half of the band, Erland Øye, and not much else happened in the intervening four or so years. But now, rejoice ladies and gentlemen, because here they are with their second album, 'Riot On An Empty Street'.
From the opener 'Homesick', which sounds like Simon & Garfunkel in a drowsy, melancholic mood, the haunting picks and plucks of an acoustic guitar, matched with the beautiful melodies and harmonies are what justifies their name as Kings.
Recent single 'Misread' is as summery and breezy as, well, a summer breeze. The gorgeously upbeat and laidback video does the song no harm whatsoever, and just you try and play this without sinking back in a big chair and drifting off. The piano lines and guitar picks are so hazy and wonderful, it's like the soundtrack to every summer ever. Even the lyrics are on top form. "How come nobody told me / all throughout history / that the loneliest people/ are the ones who always told the truth".
Solo singer Feist makes an appearance on two tracks here, which gives the album that extra energy that maybe 'Quiet Is The New Loud' lacked. On the upbeat 'Know-How', she swoons and croons along to finger plucked guitars and light piano chords, whereas on 'The Build Up', she finishes off the record with a slow, downbeat ending. In between, the albums twelve songs feature a mixture of sparse instrumentation and songs with any number of instruments, from banjos and trumpets to cellos and funk bass. There's even some lazy jazz drums on some tracks.
'Love Is No Big Truth' is, perhaps, their attempt at a fun, happy pop song, full of dancefloor potential. When they were interviewed in the Guardian a few weeks back, Øye said "I love music like Michael Jackson that is very melodic and very well-produced, but we are not Quincy Jones". Even so, it's a great little song, full of that hazy wonder that only comes when you're writing songs in the summer time. A steady pounding bass drum is matched with sharp guitar stabs and up beat piano, so it seems Erland's break as an electro artist/ DJ has given the Kings a broader musical spectrum.
They carry on with 'I'd Rather Dance With You', another delightfully up tempo dance floor belter. "I'd rather dance with you/ than talk with you" goes the first lines of the song, making sure you know what this song is all about- shut up, and dance, or in their own words- "Let your hips do the talking". "I haven't read a single book all year," sings Øye. "And the only film I saw, I didn't like it at all".
These two tracks are injections of energy and fun that gives the record a whole new outlook. This is a CD meant not only to relax to, but to jive to as well. It's in equal parts jazzy as it is melancholic and down beat, happy as it is sad, and beautiful as it is fun. There are so many contrasting emotions and feelings on the record, that they can only be summed up by looking at the front cover. If your heart doesn't melt at the sight of fellow member Eirik Glambek Bøe's girlfriend, then I'm afraid it's back to your Slipknot albums for you.
2004 has its first genuine classic.