The most fun anyone can have with Norwegian folk-duo Kings of Convenience is imagining how they spend their time between albums. Sure, there are musical cameos and the ubiquitous side-project (The Whitest Boy Alive), but it’s taken the boys 5 years to finally dispatch a new album, Declaration of Dependence (their first for Virgin), from their Mexican hide-away and hit the road again. After all that time, you’d think they’d return with something more novel.
With their newest release, Kings of Convenience aren’t going to surprise anyone, except maybe golden-eared audiophiles or completely oblivious folk fans. While Declaration of Dependence is measurably more subdued than their previous effort, Riot on an Empty Street, it’s almost identical to their debut, Quiet is the New Loud, a thesis they’re less equipped to prove 8 years later. The strong, punctuated vocal of “24-25” and the vaguely emotional “Second to Numb” make pretty strong arguments.
The breathy refrain of “freedom, free-dom” over coffee-shop strumming on “Freedom And Its Owner” weighs in more as a vote for “Quiet is the new pathetic.” It’s hard to imagine any male-fronted group making “What Sarah Said” sound comparatively rowdy, but KoC have accomplished just that with one hackneyed chorus.
What’s most impressive about Declaration, and often overlooked by fans and critics alike, is the mastering and production. On a decent set of speakers, it’s easy to imagine the band playing in the same room. Warm and precise acoustic instruments and soft but present vocals may not blow anyone’s mind, but that doesn’t make them any less impressive. A generation content to compress thousands of tracks onto iPhones and happy with streaming 128kbs over tiny desktop speakers would appreciate the attention to subtle detail, if they ever heard it in the right context.
The biggest problem with Declaration of Dependence, besides Feist not reviving her guest appearance from Riot, is timing. What could have been the perfect soundtrack to floating listlessly in your rich uncle’s pool or sipping a summer ale while the sun sets must now carry listeners through lonely winter nights; the strings and vocals feel more like a much-needed summer breeze than a warm fire. There’s just too much cold precision here to raise anyone’s temperature
Maybe their temporary home south of the border is to blame. Maybe they’re out of ideas. Or maybe they understand that the best idea is one that’s well executed. Here’s another good one: save Declaration till June 2010.