On their third full-length album, Kings Of Convenience take the idea of quiet being the new loud – as asserted by their 2001 debut, the aptly titled Quiet Is The New Loud – to exponential extremes. No drums this time round; just two acoustic guitars and the occasional cello, violin and piano bits. What comes of all this whispered quiet is an album reminiscent of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon in its simplicity, and one of the prettiest collections of acoustic pop tunes you’ll hear this year.
The quietness is indeed so pronounced that you get the feeling that to cough or speak would distract the duo’s performance. This is an album that demands attentive listening, and buried within the nuances of subtle hand slaps – which bear unfair comparison to surfer/singer Jack Johnson – and fingers squeaking on fret boards, a crystalline world seems to teeter on the edge of shattering.
On Declaration Of Dependence, the Norwegian duo, comprised of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambæk Bøe, craft brittly beautiful tunes made for the sort of beach scene that graces the album’s cover. On the opening track, 24-25, the duo sing, “What we build is bigger than the sum of two.” To be fair, they’re probably talking about love of some sort, here, but it’s not much of a stretch to apply the lyric to their music. The arrangements here are impeccable, and the vocal harmonies consistently evoke such classic folk influences as Simon & Garfunkel‘s So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Kings Of Convenience raise a direct question on Riot On An Empty Street – perhaps a leftover track from their 2004 album of the same name: “Why, why so quiet? / Oh, my mysterious country singer, she asks / My life, it’s a riot / I am climbing barricades in empty streets at night.” And on the standout track, Renegade, Øye asks again, “Why are you whispering while the bombs are falling?” The answer, it seems, is that amidst all the explosions and shouting, whilst those with their fingers on the button, and those on television are arguing with one another, competing for our attention, perhaps whispering is a reasonable and appropriate response, that it’s even the only response that makes sense.
The album is thick with lines that can be taken as either political or – to some extent – romantic or introspective. On the shuffling, swaggering Peacetime Resistance, Øye sings – sounding surprisingly like Morrissey, in his smoky whisper – over a lilting, loose violin line, “The moment your war melts down / inside is outside.” And amidst the achingly slow-moving, frozen landscape of My Ship Isn’t Pretty, he muses,” Boys of today write lines on walls / in streets at night of suburbs of cities with no name / Is this destruction or just quiet protest / against loneliness?”
And that seems to be what Declaration Of Dependence is about, that “quiet protest against loneliness.” And quiet though it may be, the protest is pronounced, accented only subtly by the quiet percussion grenade of the occasional hand pounding the guitar’s strings, or the sudden sharpness of an otherwise languidly fluid violin refrain. For the length of the album, at least, Kings Of Convenience do a standup job of convincing the listener that loud is long forgotten, and in these violent, uncertain times, quiet is king.