Kings of Convenience

Quiet is the New Loud (Astralwerks 2001)

Kings of Convenience’s debut is hopelessly square and earnest to a fault. I guess Quiet is the New Loud’s nearest antecedent would be Belle and Sebastian around the time If You’re Feeling Sinister and it’s subsequent singles as both bands share a love of witty wordplay couched in an ornate preciousness that can be a bit too much if take it at face value. However, Kings of Convenience crafted their own elegant, yet kind of awkward strain of indie-pop as they drew heavily from such unfashionable influences as Simon and Garfunkel and early Everything But the Girl and the end result is surprisingly refined, slinky and diginified in a way that would make Chet Baker green with envy.

There’s just something about Erland Oye’s gently whispered vocals that captures a suaveness and romanticism that kind of suckers you into the somber, lovestruck world his words paint on a minimal canvas of minimally strummed guitar and little else. It’s akin to what would happen if Cary Grant were somehow trapped in the body of the 98 pound weakling who got sand kicked in his face throughout the old series of ads for Charles Atlas. There is something alternately fey to the extreme, yet strong and passionately yearning about his singular focus on capturing the hearts of those who capture his incessantly wandering eye. “Singly Softly to Me” encapsulates his doomed disposition as he sings “I want a mystery that couldn’t be solved, I wanted a puzzle with pieces missing, I wanted a story that couldn’t be told, only the fishing part of fishing.” Quiet is the New Loud is an album devoted to the chase and ambivalent about the prize unless it is an unattainable one. This longing and coveting for what cannot be transformed into reality is what makes Oye one of those shabby and flawed dreamers whose songs have you pulling for him even though you know each tale is destined for failure.

“Winning a Battle, Losing the War” is one of those perfect opening salvos to open an debut album as it is the best song they ever wrote and serves as an impeccable synopsis of Oye’s views on a battle of the sexes where he’s always left battered and bruised, but wanting more. Oye pines away and sings”Even though I’ll never need her, even though she’s giving me pain, I’ll be on my knees, spend a day to make her smile again, even though I’ll never need her, even though she’s giving me pain, as the world is soft around her, leaving me with nothing to disdain” and you can almost see him grinning as the world deals him another blow. He’s a real masochist, but it is all delivered in such silky and smooth tones that you don’t notice the hurt and dysfunctional worldview unless you listen closely and hear him picking at his own scabs. Subsequent albums offer more of the same, but Quiet is the New Loud is so obsessively devoted to his own hubris and the inevitable downfall that it kind of makes the rest seem like a suburban Starbucks immortalized in song by comparison. I’ll take the gorgeous, but damaged debut any day over the simply gorgeous ones that followed because Oye poured his neurotic soul into this album devoted to the Don Quixote in all of us.