At a time when, say, 2019 feels like forever ago, the year 2009 is more or less ancient history.
In 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in for his first term as president. Michael Jackson was still alive (until he died that June). A guy landed an airplane on the Hudson River in New York. Instagram didn’t exist!
And in October of 2009, the Norwegian folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience released their third album, Declaration of Dependence, a bundle of whispered acoustic guitars and jaunty melodies that Pitchfork called “the most durable, rewarding Kings of Convenience album yet.”
It’s good that Declaration was durable, because it’s the last music the band—childhood friends Eirik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye—would release for a dozen years, choosing instead to focus on side projects and occasionally play shows. Apparently, they were also sporadically chipping away at the new songs that now make up Kings of Convenience’s fourth album, Peace or Love, which is out this week.
With 11 tracks passing by in a breezy 38 minutes, Peace or Love ably picks up where the band left off on Declaration of Dependence, as if taking 12 years and several tries to finish a follow-up is totally normal. (“We recorded the album about five times,” says Bøe.) As always, the focal point of Kings of Convenience’s work is the interplay between two gently plucked acoustic guitars and two tender, harmonizing voices, as heard to great effect in “Comb My Hair,” a simple and gorgeous song that plainly and effectively traces a post-breakup spiral:
What good is it to comb my hair
It won’t be touched by you
Why wake up when you won’t be there
Why go outside, it’s lonely there
According to the band, both of Øye’s parents passed away since we last heard from Kings of Convenience, and Bøe’s 21-year marriage ended, too. So it’s no surprise that love and loss are recurring themes here. The lite-funk groove of “Fever” neatly approximates the dizzying feeling of infatuation with someone who may or may not share those feelings, and one track later, “Killers” juxtaposes what might be the album’s most graceful guitar work with bleak lyrical images: lies to cover up a crime, hearts of darkness, an interminable wait, an empty bed. And while “Love is a Lonely Thing” is an ominous title, a hopeful middle verse (sung by Leslie Feist) that likens love to gardening lets a little light in before finally giving way to the song’s presumed fate: “Love is pain and suffering /Love can be a lonely thing,” Bøe sings, sounding like a man who knows from experience. “Once you’ve known that magic, who can live without it?”
Elsewhere, Kings of Convenience do a good job of augmenting their sound just enough to keep things interesting, welcoming Feist’s perfect-fit voice to “Catholic Country” (a co-write with British folk trio The Staves) and an unmistakable bossa nova beat to “Angel,” a sprightly song that was captured during the album’s first recording session in Santiago, Chile, way back in early 2016. Meanwhile, Peace or Love’s catchiest song, “Rocky Trail,” benefits from the prominent presence of viola and marimba, which work together to elevate it from a standard-issue Kings of Convenience tune to something delightful and unexpected.
The viola makes another appearance in the album’s closer, “Washing Machine,” which uses the titular home appliance as a metaphor for the ups and downs of a relationship where the dynamics aren’t quite balanced. “You have so much power over me,” Bøe and Øye sing before ending with a bit of tough talk: “Go and find somebody else.” They repeat it four times, as if they’re trying to convince themselves they mean it, and maybe they do. Or maybe they don’t. Either way, at least we’ve finally gotten to hear them say it.
Ben Salmon is a committed night owl with an undying devotion to discovering new music. He lives in the great state of Oregon, where he hosts a killer radio show and obsesses about Kentucky basketball from afar. Ben has been writing about music for more than two decades, sometimes for websites you’ve heard of but more often for alt-weekly papers in cities across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @bcsalmon.