Norwegian Indie folk-pop duo capture the majesty of vocal harmonies and simplistic, yet lush polyphony
Album Review: Throwback Thursdays
Kings of Convenience Riot on an Empty Street (EMI, Virgin
There is something peculiarly refreshing about acoustic instrumentation and organic songwriting in a time where overproduction is the norm and electronic music and pop-dance tunes dominant radio waves. That is not to say that the aforementioned genres and songs are inadequate; however, it becomes clear to any seasoned music lover that what was once considered unique may now be perceived as saturated and ironically dull. In response, upcoming bands and artists seem to be tirelessly at work to create the next unique sound that will initiate new trends and transcend the current popular culture. However, this is not always the case. There are plenty of artists out in the world who focus on music simply for what it is: music. These individuals indulge in and challenge their creative processes to deliver experiences meant to be listened to from beginning to end: they do not focus on what other people think. Such is the case of Norwegian Indie folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience, who emulate the majestic vocal harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel and deliver polyphonic bliss through acoustic instrumentation in several voices.
In 2004 the Kings of Convenience released Riot on an Empty Street, the band’s sophomore album that captures the singer/songwriter genius of both Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe. It is comparably the polar opposite of the all too familiar electronic-driven pop that is currently striving – and so to speak, it can be challenging to ears who have become accustomed to the former. But the brilliance of this work lies in both its accessibility and ability to evoke soothing imagery and vibes throughout each beautiful arrangement. Instead of electronic beats delivered through groove machines, we are given an upright bass to carry pulse. Where one might expect harmony to consist of clap, synth, and additional audio effects, we are given viola, cello, and piano to establish a full, luscious texture.
Soothing imagery and vibes throughout each beautiful arrangement.
What is more is that Øye and Bøe were mindful in their production, making sure to utilize real instruments and musicians to perform on them. Tracks such as “Know-How”, which also features Canadian singer/songwriter Feist, utilize this instrumental variety to effectively deliver a pleasant mixture of timbre which becomes evident as different voices/lines take turns in the spotlight: each instrumental line has a moment to shine. This is especially discernible in the lyrical work of Øye and Bøe, whose voices melt in vital synchrony through each verse and chorus as themes of friendship, simple-living, and blissful romantic love are aroused.
Just a little bit of danger, when intriguingly, our little secret, trusts that you trust me. ‘Cause no one will ever know, that this was happening, so tell me why you listen when nobody’s talking. – Know-How, Kings of Convenience
The rest of the album follows a similar pattern, using brief silences and other technical aspects (e.g. modulation) to produce variations in style. Tracks like “Cayman Islands”, primarily utilize harmonization at the forefront of the piece through both Øye and Bøe’s voices and interplay between nylon and steel string guitar that work together to establish a relaxing, yet longing feeling of adoration. It is within these blissful moments of counterpoint that listeners are exposed to the Kings’ true genius: they have the ability to evoke innocence and happiness reminiscent of a child-like state of mind. Still, there is additional variation offered through the Kings’ adaptation of both syncopated and straight rhythms, which call back to Brazilian bossa nova and even straight-forward pop at times. Listeners are treated to these rare, delightful instances in a few tunes that offer more than enough of a contrast to what they might be normally accustomed to. The end result is a familiar, yet diverse album filled with a lush, polyphonic texture driven both melodically and rhythmically by small ensemble instrumentation and pure songwriting.
Riot on an Empty Street is a songwriting gem that stands the test of time through both evolving and saturated musical tastes. Thanks to blissful, relatable themes, harmonically driven counterpoint, and acoustic timbres, the album feels new in the age of electronic music.
8.5 GREAT – The King’s of Convenience offer a songwriting experience that soothes the soul and demonstrates that simplicity can mean complexity.