Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Kings of Convenience - Riot on an Empty Street

I had originally intended for this to be a three-album review using the theme of Scandanavia to tie together the Kings of Convience's Riot on an Empty Street, Erlend Oye's DJ Kicks, and Dungen's Ta Det Lugnt, but I forgot how slowly I write CD reviews, and it's taken me forever just to write one, so the wait would be a bit too extensive for me to get them all up. Instead, I'll review the Kings of Convenience today and hopefully get to the other two later in the week.

Kings of Convenience are a Norwegian duo who have been releasing albums since 2000, but Riot on an Empty Street is their first album in three years. During their hiatus, singer/guitarist Eirik Glambek Boe decided to put his music career on hold to finish his psychology degree while singer/guitarist Erlend Oye released an electronic-influenced solo album and ventured into life as a DJ. Their "comeback album," if you will, finds them picking up right where they left off back in 2001, but stronger than they've ever been before. The album’s beautiful opener, “Homesick,” has Boe and Oye harmonizing gorgeously over a slight acoustic guitar riff. The song is very much in the vein of Simon and Garfunkel, and is a bit of a deceptive start to the album, not revealing much, if anything, about what the rest of the album will contain. “Misread” adds strings, piano, and a more upbeat feel to the sound as we begin to see where the Kings of Convenience will be taking us over the next ten songs. “Cayman Islands” and “Stay Out of Trouble” don’t break any new ground, but on “Know How” we encounter the album’s first guitar solo and Leslie Feist of Broken Social Scene joins the Kings halfway through the song to create a breathtaking harmony with Boe. The song ends with drums and bass joining the fray foreshadowing what is to come over the next few songs.

“Sorry or Please” keeps the drums around, but keeps it mellow and features both a saxophone and a banjo in the song’s final breakdown. Next comes “Love Is No Big Truth,” which is exactly what the albums seems to have been building towards. Once again Boe and Oye are harmonizing, but this time the backbeat is almost danceable and two electric guitars change the sound up again. An amazing banjo solo closes out the song and we’re left wondering what could possibly be coming next. And what’s next is something amazing, the album’s best track, “I’d Rather Dance With You.” Boe and Oye trade off lines over some incredibly catchy strings and some fantastic interplay between the guitar and piano. The song is pure pop genius and the video (which can be seen on Itunes) makes it even better. I will always envision the hilarious Erlend Oye dancing around in his sweatpants whenever I hear this song, and, oh yes, that is a good thing.

Over the last few tracks, the album slows it back down again, and “Surprise Ice” establishes itself as the best of the slow songs. I get chills every time Erlend joins Eirik in the first chorus, and it doesn’t even matter that I have no clue what surprise ice is. And though the song is slow and features acoustic guitars as its only instruments, it doesn’t have the same Simon and Garfunkel sound that opened the album. Over the course of this album, the Kings of Convenience begin to find the identity that eluded them throughout their earlier recordings. They are not just two guys harmonizing over an acoustic guitar anymore, and the eclecticism that Riot on an Empty Street shows puts the band's immense talent to much better use. I’m interested to see if Erlend Oye’s electronic work will influence the KoC’s sound in the future, but at the moment, I’m perfectly contented to sit back, chill out, and listen to this incredible album.


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