Kings of Convenience made headlines last month. No, wait, Leslie Feist did. It's been an eventful five years since the Norwegian duo's previous album, Riot on an Empty Street, featured the Canadian songstress on two tracks. After Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambæk Bøe's recent New York show, that a surprise Feist guest appearance got top media billing underscores just how eventful. Sorry, guys, I guess royalty isn't what it used to be.
No longer does Quiet Is the New Loud, the title of Øye and Bøe's 2001 Astralwerks debut, sound like such an appealing mantra. The hushed politeness that Kings of Convenience and, earlier, Belle and Sebastian reintroduced to indie listeners around the turn of the millennium must've lost its fresh feeling somewhere between Natalie Portman big-upping the Shins and the Decemberists doing a prog-folk rock opera. Then there's the more than 400,000 copies Riot sold in Europe, a number that looks virtually impossible for a group of such modest stature today. Throw in Øye's two mostly solid albums fronting dance-poppers the Whitest Boy Alive, and, well, what do Kings of Convenience have left to say?
"Quieter is the new quiet," apparently. Despite calls for the whisper-folk pair to make Øye's house and techno background more apparent, Declaration of Dependence doubles down on hushed Scandinavian understatement. No drums, unless you count slapped fretboards or squeaking fingers: just two voices, two acoustic guitars, and occasional cello, viola, or one-finger piano plinks. Along with sharper songwriting focus, this go-for-broke softness makes for the most durable, rewarding Kings of Convenience album yet-- a Pink Moon to past efforts' Five Leaves Left. Barring a last-minute José González surprise, it's also probably the best new full-length of its style you'll hear this year.
The songs on Declaration of Dependence reveal everyday tensions with a cool, undemonstrative reserve. You can hear the spare but descriptive verses as about romance, the band itself, or global politics, depending on your preference. Where Riot opener "Homesick" offered the suggestive image of "two soft voices blended in perfection," the new album's first track, tender "24-25", declares, "What we build is bigger than the sum of two." Slowly shuffling "Renegade" uses bold, vivid brush strokes to carry out that old maxim, "If you love something, let it go"; "Why are you whispering when the bombs are falling?" a solitary voice asks, between slightly dissonant strums. "Riot on an Empty Street", a holdover since years before the album of that same name, finds a traveling singer lost for words, but not for delicate melodies.
Both halves of the duo now live back home in Bergen, Norway, after a multi-year absence by the Whitest Boy Alive singer. Whether inspired by lovers, each other, or the warmongers of the world, Kings of Convenience's latest is ultimately just what its title says: a bold and beautiful assertion that we are better off together than apart. Or, as "My Ship Isn't Pretty" wonderfully puts it: a series of "quiet protests against loneliness." If the album cover had you expecting 2009's umpteenth nu-Balearic cruise, be glad we got this eloquent message in a bottle instead.
— Marc Hogan, October 19, 2009
From in Norway
Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence - 2009
02. Mrs Cold
03. Me In You
04. Boat Behind
05. Rule My World
06. My Ship Isn't Pretty
08. Power Of Not Knowing
09. Peacetime Resistance
10. Freedom And Its Owner
11. Scars On Land
12. Second To Numb
13. Riot On An Empty Street
13. Riot On An Empty Street
- Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe