The past few years of mellow European albums show the poorly-executed experimental turn that melodic pop has taken. Replacing the simple, guitar-accompanied vocals of bands like Death Cab for Cutie are the synthesized sounds of Phoenix and nameless others who enjoy robotic voices too much. Not only that, but lyrics now seem to take a backseat to artificial, deliberately inconsistent rhythms that appear like an attempt at a cheap, DJ-inspired indie evolution.
Absent after a five-year hiatus, Kings of Convenience, composed of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe from Bergen, Norway, return with their signature style with Declaration Of Dependence. “Riot On An Empty Street” takes back the intellectual mellowness they started with, and “Quiet Is The New Loud” puts poetry back where it belongs. Becoming widely known for their catchy single, “I’d Rather Dance With You,” the Norwegian duo continues to complement quirky melodies with original songwriting prowess. As Øye croons, “You feel vulnerable around me,” throughout “Mrs. Cold,” the ambient and rhythmic guitars dilute the chills created by his undulating voice, which seems to argue against the natural human condition of erecting emotional barriers. This upbeat charm scatters itself throughout the rest of the album, such as in “Boat Behind,” where punchy violin interjections introduce the song’s intended cheekiness.
Keeping true to their style, Kings Of Convenience succeed, with Declaration, in creating yet another hour-long listening session of easy, yet stirringly provoking expressions of love that’s far from typical. A reserved, content mood becomes apparent throughout the album, as most songs speak of relationships and romance in sometimes disillusioned but always unobtrusive tones.
Using their usual combination of the acoustic guitar with a light drum and occasional strings, their creation of a classically contemporary mix testifies to their ability to reconstruct their own pleasing idea of today’s pop. An odd, jangly guitar intro makes way for a stringed sequence and a quickly drummed rhythm that pulsates through “Peacetime Resistance” with energy and without rushing the progression. “Rule My World” leads toward an auditory perfection as notes move up and down vividly with settled mellow moments in between verses. With no synthesizer other than occasional vocal layering, the album is a testament to a particular, banal adage that probably describes most appropriately — less is more.
Despite a lengthy time lapse between their last album and Declaration, Kings Of Convenience offer an exceedingly well-composed new collection of songs to their repertoire that makes up for the wait. In the new wave of synthetically crafted but awkwardly artificial pop sounds, the refreshing tenor of Kings’ simple instrumental compositions conceptualizes the point of love songs crisply and satisfyingly. And as the last track — idiosyncratically named after a previous album — fades into silence, we’re left wondering if Øye really means it when he trails off with, “I’ve got nothing to say here tonight.”