Kings of Convenience Return at the Perfect Time on 'Peace or Love'

Kings of Convenience Return at the Perfect Time on 'Peace or Love'
With each year that passed since Kings of Convenience's 2009 album, Declaration of Dependence, their idiosyncratic brand of acoustic folk fell further out of favour with the zeitgeist. The indie folk bands that followed them into the spotlight, from scrappy indie upstarts Fleet Foxes to major label bandwagoners like Mumford and Suns, burst onto the scene and went electric in the years since the Kings' last album dropped.

Built around the ethos of "quiet is the new loud" (also the name of their 2001 debut album) the Norwegian duo challenged their listeners to slow down and shut up to take in the rich details of their hushed vocals and pleasantly strummed guitars, even going as far as asking concert venues to close bars during their sets to minimize noise. Somehow, they've picked the perfect time to return, 16 months into a global pandemic that has turned the promise of a bustling room into an anxiety attack in the making. On Peace or Love, the Kings traverse the dichotomy cheekily expressed in the album title guided by their signature brand of wistfulness and longing, now mixed with the wisdom of age.

Revisiting their sonic trademarks, including tight harmonies, lovelorn lyrics and some appearances from Feist (who's certainly grown in popularity since she showed up on the Kings' Riot on an Empty Street in 2004), Peace or Love doesn't tread new ground, but offers a pleasant reminder of what made them stand out in the first place, at the perfect time. Thew album's not always smooth (the strutting "Angel" finds the pair singing about an "angel, though she might be, just slightly, promiscuous") but it hits its mark when the pair opt for tender, lovelorn observations, as on lead single "Rocky Trail," which hums with an undercurrent of keys and violins (and the sounds of someone softly clicking their teeth to the beat) as the duo reflect honestly and candidly on shortcomings at the end of a relationship: "How am I to know about your problems and your load? / I am blind to what you show, I am waiting to be told / I never ask."

The airy baritones of Eirik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye still sound like they were born to fit perfectly together, and they sing with the unpretentious patience of the adults on Sesame Street, lending an endearing quality to even the most obvious observations such as on the self-explanatory "Ask for Help": "If you got the will to do it / But you lack the skills to do it good / Ask for help." There's plenty of stylistic depth to stop things from plodding along too slowly, such as the bossa nova stylings of "Angel" and "Catholic Country," and their jokingly half-hearted attempt to recreate disco with two acoustic guitars on "Fever" ("Of a different kind," they clarify). Feist's two appearances lack the dramatic heft of her turns on Riot on an Empty Street, but her voice still tangos with Bøe's with the candour of old friends. 

Bøe and Øye have always confronted any bit of uncertainty and frustration by taking things slow and talking them out — it's not necessarily thrilling or exciting, but it's certainly conducive to growth. Though eschewing the (mild, but still present) domestic theatrics of their earlier works for more wizened fare may have muted their immediate impact, their knack for immersive melodies and grooves keep things compelling. Kings of Convenience have never needed to be revelatory to be worth listening to, and Peace or Love is just as endearing and enjoyable at a time when lighthearted fare might be hard to come by. (EMI)