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Members include Eirik Glambek Bøe (born in Bergen, Norway), vocals, guitar; Erland Øye (born in Bergen, Norway), vocals, guitar. Addresses: Record company--Astralwerks Records, 104 W. 29th St., 4th Fl., New York, NY 10001, website: http://www.astralwerks.com. Website--Kings of Convenience Official Website: http://www.kingsofconvenience.com/.
The concept of two men lightly strumming acoustic guitars, while singing harmonies over the top of a breezy folk setting is not unique to the Kings of Convenience. In fact, much of the music coming out of America in the mid-1960s boasted a gaggle of groups dedicated to softly singing to a world that was in desperate need of a quiet during the storm. But while folk has seen a resurgence lately in modern music, with the likes of Bright Eyes and the late Elliott Smith having gained mass popularity, the Norwegian duo of Eirik Glambek Bøe and Erland Øye, collectively known as Kings of Convenience, are not necessarily concerned with delivering songs tinged with politicized rants or anything that is bordering on the suicidal. Instead, they calculate a soft version of folk that hints at the spirit of Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkel, while incorporating more lounging and relaxed elements of jazz and bossa nova into their remarkably hushed repertoire.
Considering the fact that the group started in the Norwegian town of Bergen--a locale that touts itself as "the old city with a young outlook"--the group's modern take on somewhat traditional folk sounds can almost immediately be credited to Bøe and Øye's birthplace. Both Bøe and Øye found a connection, writing songs in a house owned by Øye's parents, and promptly started playing with a few other friends under the name Skog. Both men were fairly distinct in their hometown, as Øye was instantly recognizable for his oversized, square-like spectacles. Bøe, the quieter of the two, was a bit more withdrawn, electing to practice karate and mountain climb as pastimes outside of music.
Skog had a short but respectable run in Bergen, most notably contributing a cover of Joy Division's "Eternal" to a compilation in tribute of the band. However, in 1997, the band went their separate ways, as Bøe began psychology studies at university while Øye began playing guitar in the band Peachfuzz. But, when Bøe returned home on breaks from college, he and Øye would assemble in the Øye-family household to craft gentle, acoustic-laden pop songs that would highlight both of their burgeoning voices as much as it would their meticulous and intricate playing style. The band set out to record and eventually release the material they were working on, including trilogy of singles for the Telle Records. With a small but growing fan base, the band then released the EP Live in a Room on Source Records. But both labels, based in Norway, could only supply their music so far. The band decided that it was essential to send out some demos to labels in the United States to see if their appeal was broader than the bubble they had created.
The result of further demos eventually fell into the hands of Kindercore Records, a label that, though now defunct, managed to capitalize on a growing interest in music that was a fresh alternative from aggressive and sloppy indie rock. Featuring a roster of bands that emphasized melody and restraint, including Dressy Bessy, Of Montreal, I Am the World Trade Center, and Masters of the Hemisphere, the selection of songs that Bøe and Øye had submitted to the label seemed right at home. An initial 7-inch single was issued, and an album soon followed.
The Kings of Convenience's 1999 self-titled debut instantly stood out among Kindercore's slightly more "band oriented" signees; a fact that established the works of Bøe and Øye to be viewed not as part of the Athens-based label's rising scene, but instead a record that stood on its own as a solid work of folksy pop, far removed from the psychedelic pop-rock the label was known for. Featuring slightly skeletal arrangements of songs like "Toxic Girl" and "Winning a Battle, Losing the War," Kings of Convenience depicted a band comfortable delivering songs that were devoid of over-the-top production and instead focused on something much more straight from the heart; something much more honest. These qualities prompted Pitchforkmedia.com's Steven Byrd to proclaim that, "There's nothing cheesily plastic, needlessly slick or out-and-out lazy about this duo." He went on to say that, "One element that makes this album effective is that its songs have a sense of energy and motion to them, a dynamic quality that too many folk-inspired artists seem to forget."
The Kings of Convenience struck a chord with fans that were also becoming enamored with the aforementioned Smith, the stark acoustic balladry of Red House Painters, and KOC's friend and like-minded comrade Badly Drawn Boy. The growing interest in more listener-friendly, acoustic music worked well in Kings of Convenience's favor, as Bøe and Øye continued to gain popularity in Europe and abroad.
As a response to the growing interest in the two Norwegians, the band attempted to trump their debut with a more sprawling, instrumentally advanced, and all together more solid second album. Released by the more commonly electronic label Astralwerks (home to acts like the Chemical Brothers and Air) in early 2001, Quiet is the New Loud was an album full of lush arrangements and skin-tight vocal harmonies. All of a sudden, sensitivity, as well as Burt Bacharach-like song structures, became acceptable again, as the album's title went so far as to suggest that quiet acts could garner attention just as easily as the louder ones.
Featuring reworked versions of material heard on their Kindercore debut, including the infectious "Toxic Girl," as well as new songs like "Failure" and "The Weight of My Words," Quiet is the New Loud added strings, flowing percussion, and other instruments like trumpet and oboe to their already contagious arrangements. Popmatters.com's Sarah Zupko said Øye and Bøe "have mastered the lustrous harmonies and polite sensitive boy cooing that made Belle & Sebastian indie faves. They also have a swell way with a tune, constructing deceptively simple melodies that lodge themselves effortlessly into your head. That's no small thing and the 'gentleness' and understated quality tends to make the musical achievement seem less than obvious."
Though the album was critically acclaimed the world over, essentially signifying a new movement in indie rock, nobody could expect what came next from Kings of Convenience, even though they were on the electronic-friendly label Astralwerks. In fact, the follow up to Quiet is the New Loud was not another wistful stab at pillowy pop. Instead, Versus, released on Astralwerks in October of 2001, remixed the folk-duo's breakthrough with wonderful, sometimes strange, but always intriguing results. Glitch-hop wiz Four Tet gave a hip-hop flavor to "The Weight of My Words" and fellow Norwegians Royksopp (whom Øye has worked with separate of Kings of Convenience) added loops and a punchy bass to the more melancholy "I Don't Know What I Can Save You From." Though the record received mixed reviews, most seemed impressed by the bands' adventurous nature concerning the project.
Momentum for the band reached it's highest point following the release of Versus; something that may have caused Eirik Bøe to bow out of the spotlight and return home to their native Norway to further pursue his studies in psychology. Erland Øye, however, was not content with just sitting still. Possibly inspired by their foray into the electronic world with Versus, Øye released a solo album that bleeped and blipped with a newfound love for dance music. The album, entitled Unrest, was released in 2003, and featured Øye collaborating with the likes of Prefuse 73, Soviet, and Schneider TM. It gained rave reviews, prompting All Music Guide's Andy Kellman to dub it an "excellent set of mellow electronic pop."
But, like most artists who function as a duo, it was obvious Bøe and Øye missed collaborating with one another. Though it had been almost three years since the release of their first major statement, it was time the Kings regained their crown as the royal princes of folk-inspired pop. Released in July of 2004, Riot on an Empty Street delivered 12 songs of the seamless harmonies, simplistic approaches, and warmly strummed acoustic guitars that the duo had become famous for. This time out the Kings issued a collection of songs that are even more intricate and charming than that of their original offering, even going so far as to include guest vocalist Leslie Feist (who does double duty as a member of Broken Social Scene and performs as a solo artist as well) in the songwriting of two of the album's more adventurous tracks: "Know How" and "The Build-Up."
The KOC have charmed their audience by simply presenting songs that function within the context of uncomplicated honesty. Their humble approach, coupled with a knack for concocting tales of love, loss, and all that falls in between, makes it easy for Kings of Convenience to strike a chord with a generation. It is within the down-to-earth nature of Bøe and Øye that seems to ensure the prevalence of music that comes simply from the heart. If quiet truly is the new loud, the whisper issued by Kings of Convenience should resonate with a resounding "boom" for a long time to come.
by Ryan Allen
Kings of Convenience's Career
Group formed in Bergen, Norway, late 1990s; released The Kings of Convenience on Kindercore Records, 2000; signed with Source/Astralwerks, 2001; released Quiet is the New Loud, 2001; released remix album Versus, 2001; Øye released solo album Unrest, 2003; released Riot on an Empty Street, 2004.
- Selected discography
- The Kings of Convenience Kindercore, 2000.
- Quiet is the New Loud Astralwerks, 2001.
- Versus Astralwerks, 2001.
- Riot on an Empty Street Astralwerks, 2004.
- Billboard, August 7, 2004.
- Entertainment Weekly, August 6, 2004.
- Music & Media, March 9, 2002.
- Music Week, October 13, 2001; June 12, 2004; August 14, 2004.
- "Kings of Convenience," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 4, 2004).
- "Kings of Convenience," Pitchforkmedia.com, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/k/kings-of-convenience/kings-of-convenience.shtml (September 30, 2004).
- Kings of Convenience Official Website, http://www.kingsofconvenience.com (September 7, 2004).
- "Kings of Convenience: Quiet is the New Loud," PopMatters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/k/kingsofconvenience-quiet.shtml (September 17, 2004).
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