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Kings of Convenience

REVIEW: Kings of Convenience: Kings of Convenience
6.1.2001 by Sean

Kings of Convenience: Kings of Convenience (Kindercore, 2001)

I've often wondered what the hell happened to 60's music. I mean, tons of people love it. The Beatles, the Stones, Joan Baez - these are classics, and styles of music that many, many people enjoy. Some of these torches have been taken up, passed on... retro-pop (a la Beatles) is terrifically supported by acts like the Lucksmiths, Beulah and the Delgados. Dan "I got big balls" Bern does Bob Dylan's schtick, Pulp and Suede have that glam-rock thing down pat. But some styles have been lost. There's no Sly and the Family Stone-like band kicking around. Nobody's doing delicious Buddy Holly-style rockabilly or Fats Domino piano R&B. One of the strangest lacks, however, was in the infamous S&G department. Yeah, Simon & Garfunkel. Sure, Belle and Sebastian plays quiet little pieces, but sometimes they break into a rousing Surf number. Elliott Smith is vaunted as the 90s equivalent, but come on, he's one guy, and does he have more than three catchy songs? No, I had thought Simon and Garfunkel's niche to be fully vacant in the year 2001, and it was too bad.

But I was wrong. Somebody does indeed carry Art and Paul's torch. And they're from Norway.

The Kings of Convenience are Eirik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye. Two fellows from Bergen who revel in acoustic finger-picking and vocal harmonies. Their voices are warm, their melodies sweet, and the production minimal. Unlike Beth Orton or David Gray, there aren't any techno-squeaks tick-tocking under the strums and "la"s. Their music is organic, simple, and super-duper.

The KOS album you're most likely to find in stores is Quiet is the New Loud, their new release on the SOURCE label. I'm reviewing, however, their self-titled Kindercore release - a disc that was released first, but which shares most of the same songs. I like this album better - I find the production to be tighter, the music fuller. If you can't find it, however, Quiet is the New Loud is quite acceptable.

Kings of Convenience sets off with some kick-drum and snare, bounding its way into the rolling road-trip of a song that is "Toxic Girl". It bounces along a dirt road, meandering into minor chords and then back again to vocal harmonies and hand-claps. A bass swells every so often in the background, bringing to mind a jocular tuba-player who follows the band around while wearing a funny Norwegian hat.

Unlike Elliott Smith, Eirik and Erlend don't just sing the same thing in different octaves. They sing both separately and together, highlighting the ups and downs of each song - as did our friends Art and Paul. Their melodies are top-notch, simple strums merging into finger-picking and acapella serenades. They sing of kettles and love and "suprise ice on the water". Shades of CSNY's "Our House".

At the beginning of "Failure", something is muttered - an aside to a producer or engineer, perhaps. That sonic indice, however, brings to mind Ben Folds Five, and as the song starts up the parallel sticks. KOC lack the gritty American energy of BF5, but they carry the same vocal prowess, the same skill for conducting variations on the same musical theme. It's pop with guitars not pianos, but you can just picture the Kings jamming on a Soul Coughing number, throwing in some raucous yells in the same way that Stuart Murdoch recently covered a Sex Pistols song at an English B&S concert. Maybe an AC/DC cover-album is in the works for these guys...

Some indie musicians play acoustic guitar mournfully, as if Jimi himself were trying to coax some wails from the strings. Mark Kozelek (of the Red House Painters), Pedro the Lion andothers do thise. The KOC are simply tickling their guitars under their chins, letting them make soft, lovely sounds, like marmalade cats padding across the morning-lit kitchen. Their music is delicious, infectious, and sing-able. On a rainy, or a sunny, Sunday afternoon, it's music that will warm your bones, like honey, and bring you visions of small English villages, if not Norwegian skating rinks.

YLTIYL: Simon and Garfunkel, Mojave 3, Elliott Smith, Ben Folds Five, the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Nick Drake, REM Reveal, Of Montreal, Turin Brakes.

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