Monday, August 05, 2002

Kings of Convenience: Norwegian Quiet Riot

August 5, 2002
The New York Observer

Ever since the Strokes revived the downtown punk-garage scene with the impetuosity of Joey Ramone and the influence of Alan Greenspan, the decibel meters have been busy with an unending stream of other bands with loud, basic sounds and names to match: the Hives, the Vines, the Liars. At this raucous party, acoustic guitars and soft voices are about as appropriate as a game of checkers at an orgy. But serenity in the midst of sonic fury is exactly what the Kings of Convenience are all about.

The Kings, who are scheduled to play their first U.S. concert at the Angel Orensanz Center at 172 Norfolk Street on Aug. 7, are a head-bobbing, floppy-haired duo from Norway whose real names -- Eirik Glambek Boe and Erlend Oye -- are much less convenient to pronounce than their band moniker. Their music derives from two melodic guitars, an occasional drum machine and baggage-free lyrics, which together create an emotional landscape that easily rivals Belle and Sebastian's 1970 adolescent misadventures, minus the preciousness.

But just like the rock bands on the rougher side of the playground, the Kings are disciples of the 1960's -- Donovan and especially Simon and Garfunkel, of whom they do a killer imitation. Despite the Kings' uncanny brotherly consonance and their penchant for Thoreauvian contemplation on country lanes, their music is no gimmick.
It's so effortless and sincere that it sounds as if the boys are channeling some sort of sonic energy from a time and a place long tucked away.

Then again, energy may be too raucous a definition. The Kings' last release, from 2001, was called, appropriately, Quiet Is the New Loud (Source), though it was essentially a sonically tricked-up repackaging of their eponymous first outing on the Kindercore label.

Like the new title, Quiet's slick production by Coldplay producer Ken Nelson -- perhaps hoping to work the magic that Tom Wilson did with Simon and Garfunkel's original version of "Sound of Silence" -- is mostly unnecessary. The Kings don't really need Mr. Nelson's addition of a bossa-nova-esque horn track to hit their marks as they do on the wistful and gorgeous "Parallel Lines," a meditation on inseparability: "What's the immaterial substance that envelops two? / That one
perceives as hunger and the other, as food."

While excessively ethereal at times, the Kings are lyrically capable of much more. A song like "Winning a Battle, Losing the War" melds nimble guitar chords and a story of inexplicable love -- "even though she doesn't want me around" -- to make a song that's pretty damn heartbreaking if you're in that sort of mood. And after listening to many of these post-love love songs, you probably will be.

They don't have the bohemian poetry of Paul Simon, but -- as with the loud bands that have managed to strip down even Iggy Pop's raw designs -- the Kings' simplicity speaks volumes. They walk the fine line between lovelorn need and comfortable solitude, without the slightest touch of irony. And even the most elliptical tracks are pretty afternoon jaunts, more damp Scandinavian hillside than 59th Street
Bridge, that you can get lost on, or at least drift asleep to -- which might be a perfect antidote to the Hives' version of aural No-Doz.

-alex pasternack