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Kings of Convenience: Peace or Love

kings of convenience peace or love When Kings of Convenience first began making music, there was a certain quaint breeziness that made their music as infectious as it is. It never changed all that much over the course of their first three albums: 2001’s Quiet is the New Loud, 2004’s Riot on an Empty Street, and 2009’s Declaration of Dependence. Even from those album titles, you can get the band’s tone without ever hearing a note: it’s a Simon & Garfunkel-esque send-up that’s aware of the soft-bodiedness that typically comes from making music like this. Riot began with the lyrics “I’ll lose some sales and my boss won’t be happy/ But I can’t stop listening to the sound/ Of two soft voices blended in perfection/ From the reels of this record that I’ve found,” and the similarly-blended voices of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe somehow managed to sell that quaint imagery well. Later on that same album on a more upbeat song, they innocently tell you that they’d “rather dance with you than talk with you,” and somehow, it doesn’t even scan as sexual — it sounds like they legitimately just want to dance.

It has been 12 long years since Declaration of Dependence, which itself took five after Riot. The world has become a completely different place since 2009, a cavalcade of naked pain, racial and income equality, and heaps of political strife the world over. Somehow, in comparison, the duo of Øye and Bøe feel like they haven’t aged a day; their voices are still clear as a crystalline lake in the summertime, the melodies gentle enough to float atop a gentle breeze. It’s fitting that the cover depicts them playing a game of checkers on a cozy sofa surrounded by light grey brickwork (all shot dreamily from above, naturally) — to them, their music is no more troublesome than lazing around, playing a board game with your best friend on a sunny day.

The problem, though, is that it’s all the same. Bands that make comfortable music and (continue) to make comfortable music will, in turn, instill a level of comfort in the listener due to the consistency, but it also instills a level of stagnation within the artist themselves. The muted y notes of “Angel” sound like they could be imbued with some soft horns and end up fitting perfectly next to “Sing Softly to Me” or “Misread.” The opening verse of the bouncy, almost-funky “Fever” isn’t any more clever than the one that opens “Homesick,” but despite 20 years to improve, it’s no better than the one that punches us in the gut at the beginning of “Winning the Battle, Losing the War.” That song might be the most frustrating of the bunch, because it sounds like Øye’s very best work over in The Whitest Boy Alive — but doesn’t really believe in itself the way that band does.

Is that a fair assessment? Perhaps it isn’t — after all, Peace or Love isn’t a bad record. Had it been released six years ago, it might have even felt just as perfect and fragile as Quiet is the New Loud did when it first came out. Songs like the Feist-bearing “Catholic Country” is one of the best songs they’ve ever done, and “Love is a Lonely Thing”’s chorus of “Patience is the hardest thing to have to learn/ Hours seem like oceans when desire burns/ Rushing in will ruin all, you must bide your time/ Sow a seed in water, wait for love to grow” is beautifully evocative in a way that feels almost transcendent when viewed from the right angle. Kings of Convenience are an awesome band, but the feeling you get from Peace or Love is an odd one. At one point, they were an easy answer for a band that embodied the spirit of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Even the other bands in that category diversified themselves and veered off in other directions, but with Peace or Love, you’ll find yourself wondering what, exactly, made them decide to finally begin making music again. If some cosmic force gave them the push they needed to create good music again, is it too much to wish that push had been just a bit firmer?

The last 12 years in our world has felt like an endless torrent of misery and chaos, and as the country finds itself engulfed in punishing heat waves and tropical fronts, the music of Peace or Love should be a wonderful antidote to everything. If you blur your vision and don’t focus too hard on anything about it, it really does feel like another great album by the band. But like some things in the unfathomable heat, it’s all a mirage, its comforts masking a lack of better ideas. Albums like Peace or Love are frustrating, because it’s clearly something they excel at, but they seem sometimes afraid to try perfecting something slightly different — as though they’ve painted themselves into a creative corner and have just accepted it. It’s hard to really, truly fault them for treading water; after all, it isn’t as though they aren’t good — great, even — at what they do. In fact, few around are as good at it as them. But much like a friendly game of checkers, it’s natural to want a greater challenge every once in a while.

After a 12-year break, the Swedish whisper-folk duo is back with yet another collection of gentle music — but four albums in, the act is in desperate need of a new direction.
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