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Kings provide mellow, meditative listen

Julie Bender | Thursday, September 30, 2004

Accompaniment for a quiet night. That is what the new album from Kings of Convenience is. Curled up under a blanket, sipping coffee or tea, relaxed, mellow, contemplative – these are the conditions under which listening is best. But of course, gorgeous harmonies and melodic arrangements can be appreciated anywhere and anytime. With its second album, “Riot on Empty Street,” this duo from Norway creates a subtle, stroked collection of songs that are eerily reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, at times with a bossa nova air. The duo even looks like Simon & Garfunkel with its student appeal and aloof hipster qualities. One part of the duo, Erlend Oye wears large, clumsy glasses; the other part, Eirik Glambek Boe, drives a ’66 Beetle.Former members of the Norwegian band Skog, Oye and Boe started down separate paths when the band split, but their mutual love for music kept them in contact with each other. When the timing was right, they reformed as a duo: “two people and two acoustic guitars,” as their Web site says. In 2001 the two released their first album, “Quiet is the New Loud,” and 2004 brings their sophomore effort with the equally paradoxical title, “Riot on Empty Street.” The duo may seem quiet, but its subtle sounds yield a beauty that is far from empty. Its lyrics are introspective and handedly mask the fact that English is not the pair’s first language. The first single from “Riot on Empty Street,” “Misread,” has a snap-your-fingers, bossa nova rhythm. Its light, playful quality is refreshing, but the jazzy piano overlaying the string arrangement diminishes any thought that this is simplistic music. The reflective lyrics reinforce this as the duo sings, “The loneliest people / Were the ones who always spoke the truth / The ones who made a difference / By withstanding the indifference.” The album’s opening song “Homesick,” is melodically and lyrically the best song on it. The guitar picking is gentle and the vocal harmonies of Oye and Boe are near perfection as they sing about finding comfort in listening to old albums. They say it best themselves when they sing, “I can’t stop listening to the sound / Of two soft voices / Blended in perfection / From the reels of this record that I found.” The resemblance to Simon and Garfunkel is uncanny, both in their harmonies and their themes. Another high point on the album includes “I’d Rather Dance With You,” which has an ’80s electronic flavor. The plucked guitar and repetitive lyrics add to this flavor, making the song a spoofy dance number suitable for a get-together of friends in jest of the dance club scene. “Riot on Empty Street” is a sedated, meditative, non-rock album. Its appeal is in its subtlety. Its only weakness is in the lack of variety among some of the songs. The placid melodies and pure harmonies would blend nicely as background music for a coffee shop, but they also lend themselves to deep listens for the listener seeking lyrical and musical depth. As Oye and Boe’s Web site aptly says, “Spending late nights by the window, drinking tea, making songs that make the world stop and listen,” that is what Kings of Convenience is all about.