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Kings of Convenience – “Declaration of Dependence”

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Over the past year or so, I’ve divided my time between my work, my friends and listening to acoustic pop duo Kings of Convenience. Their intricately intertwined acoustic arpeggios and haunting baritone harmonies have given me goosebumps (hopefully it’s not something more serious) since the very first time I heard them just over a year ago. Songs like “I’d rather dance with you” and “Misread” (both off of the 2004 “Riot on an Empty Street”) became a mainstay on my personal sountrack. So you can imagine my joy upon hearing that the Norwegian pair had just released their new album “Declaration of Dependence”

Ok, so a bit of background. Kings of Convenience are not for everyone, fans of metal, hard rock and women who are nursing or pregnant should consult a doctor before listening to KoC. These guys are quiet… like really quiet. Hell, their first album was called “Quiet is the New Loud”, and you know what? That’s the only album that makes noticeable use of percussion. Most of what you could conceivably call percussion in either their 2004 “Riot on an Empty Street” or the new “Declaration of Dependence” comes from string smacks distributed throughout the swirling guitar arpeggios. The band consists of Norwegian Guitarist/Singers Erlend Øye (also of Whitest Boy Alive) and Eirik Glambek Bøe. You’ll notice that both of these musicians have that awesome O with the slash through it, which leads me to believe that all of Norway is f***ing awesome. One last bit of background, though they are more popular in Europe, they will forever be overshadowed as the second most popular band in America whose name starts with “Kings of” (falling just shy of their Leon-esque rivals).

Ok, so lets get to this new album shall we?

First thing I notice is that this album has taken a less poppy turn than their previous “Riot”. On that album they really took off with popular songs like “I’d Rather Dance With You” and “Know How” which were very up-tempo and had catchy melodies. It appears as though this new album will be more of a return to their early work on “Quiet is the New Loud”. Immediately it is evident that they’ve still got it. The album opens with “24-25” a slow acoustic ballad which showcases their fundamental style: simple, straightforward guitar and vocals. Their voices spend most of their time twisting around each other like smoke rising from a newly extinguished candle. This is consistent with their previous work, but is nonetheless beautiful in a slow lilting sort of way.

The album then moves into slightly more uptempo selections such as their first single off the album “Mrs. Cold”. This single serves to change the mood from the slow, lilting “25-24” to a more playful one, starting off with the words “Hey baby”. From here the album only gets better and better. I’ve become personally attached to songs like “Me in You”, “Rule My World” and the albums second single “Boat Behind” (seen here live) which resorts back to the use of violin in support of their bouncing guitar and fluctuating vocals. “Rule My World” doesn’t seem like it should stand out in any way. Sure its kind of catchy, and the musicianship is clearly present, but it’s not a track you would expect to stick out from the rest. Well let me tell you, that song has been stuck in my head all day long, which normally annoy me, but this song is seriously good. The thing I absoutely love about this album is that even when they use chords, they’re not the same overused bland space filling power chords you hear in most music nowadays. Each chord could be listened to on its own, on repeat, and still not be boring.

Overall, this is the kind of album that you want to listen to as background noise, but the complexity of the chords and harmonies won’t let you. You almost have to pay attention to fully understand the songs. In their previous work, they wrote easily accessible songs that were both catchy and slightly more complex than the rest of the pack, but on this album they aim for a richness not seen in the pop songs of “Riot on an Empty Street” and succeed. My only complaint is that I kinda like a straight pop song every now and again, and this album doesn’t seem to have one. Overall I give it an A-. If it had had a “I’d Rather Dance With You”-esque single it would have gotten an A hands down.

In their own words “I can’t stop listenin’ to the sound of two soft voices twisted in perfection, from the reels of this record that I found.” (from the song ‘Misread’ found on “Riot on an Empty Street”)

Listen to their myspace!

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“Rush” – – Black Gold

November 8, 2009 Leave a comment

These days, it’s impossible to label something with just a genre. You can’t be hardcore, you’re “screamo post-metalcore.” You can’t just be pop, you’re “psychadelic girlpop with a psychobilly tinge.” Part of it is musical evolution, and that’s a good thing. Black Gold’s debut is fairly good at this mixing of genres, but it makes the album a little hard to get behind, just because they haven’t finished their trek to finished band.

The disc starts with “Detroit,” a pop song with airy vocals and heavy beats. The piano adds a nice touch. Effectively, it’s like they’re taking the beats and legitimacy of Passion Pit and mixing it with the sexy pop of the Friendly Fires. The second track, “Plans & Reveries,” tries to be a pop anthem, but it just makes it generic but trying the big catchy choruses on for size. It’s hard to sing along to, which is a no-no for pop music.

Track three, “Breakdown,” has me mixed. Now the track is a sexy dance song, but it tends to fall flat in the chorus. Now, this was the moment that I remembered that I had seen this band live, opening for (lol) Jaguar Love. I remembered this track because it was hot as hell. It was a dance INFERNO in the Middle East Upstairs. The track on the album does not reflect this very well. This gives me hope that they just don’t translate to tape well.

Then we get to track 5, “Silver,” which is a Jet-a-la-Shine-On pseudo-folk ditty that just doesn’t do much for me at all, especially in the world we’re in that inundates everything with “folk.” Track 6, “Shine,” doesn’t improve much, though it does have a vaguely Sondre Lerche feel to it that I can appreciate.

Basically, the end of the line is that the first four tracks are some hot electro-pop, the next four are folk-y parlor tunes, and the album ends on some underwhelming Third Eye Blind/Semisonic type tunes. Grab “Detroit” and “Breakdown” and call it a day; seeing these guys live is totally worth it, but Rush leaves me mostly unimpressed.

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