When considering a duo like Kings of Convenience, it’s important to think about the purpose of the music. Kings don’t write songs you can dance to, or songs that will be played on any radio station, ever. Kings write lovely simple melodies outlined by acoustic guitars. It’s mellow background music for studying or for quiet conversation in a cozy café. While they’ll never headline a major festival, Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambæk Bøe manage the task they’ve set out for themselves. While their third studio album, Declaration of Dependence, doesn’t have much movement or development, its sweet delicacy and sheer prettiness count for a lot.

Kings of Convenience

Declaration of Dependence
Virgin

The duo hails from Scandinavia, the region responsible for ABBA and its Euro-pop friends, borderline-insane metal acts like Opeth and the occasional combustible indie-pop darling (most recently Peter Bjorn and John). Kings of Convenience neatly fall into this third category — their carefully crafted songs are precious and appealing at first, but they won’t hold the listener’s interest for long. Some of Kings’ rambling ballads bring to mind empty Nordic ice fields and peaceful cities full of tall blondes. It’s a nice picture, if a bit boring.

It’s hard to believe, but Declaration of Dependence is even mellower than its dreamy predecessors, Quiet is the New Loud and Riot on an Empty Street. The acoustic guitar strumming is pleasant, and Øye and Bøe’s voices effortlessly blend to form swirling harmonies, but sometimes the sound is too airy, with nothing there to bring it down to earth.

Perhaps drums or electric beats could have grounded the music, but Kings go at it alone, with nothing but acoustic guitars and the occasional violin. The typically hazy and cliché lyrics (“Freedom, freedom never greater than its owner / Freedom is the mastery of the known”) do nothing to help focus the music. While Øye and Bøe’s foreignness to English manifests itself nicely in their clipped, cautious and vaguely accented delivery, it’s hard not to snicker when they tell a girl, “Ooh, there’s a little bit of me in you” on the aptly titled “Me in You.”

Declaration has its moments. With lush violin accents and thumping, folky guitar chords backing a concisely no-frills melody, “Boat Behind” is tailor-made for a sad rainy day, an unpretentious lament that “Oh, whoa whoa / I can never belong to you.” And “Riot on an Empty Street” actually brings to mind a desolate Nick Drake rumination. “It’s a dangerous game that I’m not sure if I could keep playing for long” — as Øye and Bøe hum the guitar part over a repeated piano ostinato, listeners are left to wonder: are they talking about life or music?

Perhaps the most endearing thing about Declaration of Dependence is the raw production. From the guitar squeaks to the breathing to the soft sound of Øye and Bøe’s mouths opening to sing, every detail of Declaration is here on record. It’s a stark contrast with today’s overproduced pop music — a nod to the past, when artists like Simon & Garfunkel brought a delicate, acoustic vibe to rock music. True, it’s too placid and chilled-out for today’s Top 40. But in the right situation, Declaration of Dependence provides a laid-back, dependable sonic environment that won’t disappoint.

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