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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Kings of Convenience – Declaration of Dependence album review

Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence

The fact that the days are rapidly drawing in really helped to set the scene for the second album from this indie folk-pop duo from Norway.

It’s no wonder that their musical creativity has always yielded a soft, hushed and acoustic sound. After all, they do work a considerable number of hours under the cover of darkness – something which always makes me view the Kings of Convenience and indeed, the whole Norwegian population as a rather quiet, contemplative lot.

And it was with that same seasonal mindset that I first listened to Declaration of Dependence, before being plunged into the warmth and cosiness of what is, unmistakably, a beautiful album.

It’s been five years since Erland Øye and Eirik Glambak Bøe released Riot on an Empty Street, but those signature lilting lullaby vocals and soft plucked guitars are still there to woo.

Opener, 24-25 gets everything off to a great start. It’s the musical equivalent of stew and crusty bread – simple and heart warming, comprised of pure elements which blend perfectly together leaving you thoroughly satisfied.  

Mrs. Cold has breezy and breathy guitars that make for another pleasing listen, whilst Me In You (no innuendos please – I’m sure these innocent chappies didn’t mean it that way) offers something similar, only this time with a soft tinkling of ivory. Both Boat Behind and Rule My World run along the same atmospheric, airy, autumnal vein and are packed full of descriptive lyrics, light hearted violins and stripped down acoustics.

There’s a vulnerability that reappears dotted throughout lyrics on the album. In Renegade, the Kings murmur, “Go easy on me I can’t help what I’m doing”, similar to 24-25’s, “Give me today or you will just scare me away”. I have yet to decide whether this underlying tone has the effect of melting the emotions or grating the nerves.

Still, whilst the reaction to some of the more ‘wouldn’t say boo to a goose’ lyrics probably depends on an individual’s sympathies at the time of listening, the vulnerability within the melodies is definitely welcome. The duo’s almost timid sounding instruments are what make the album so good to listen to. They have managed to create nuances in sound, shifts in volume levels and different ways of playing their instruments so that guitars become both percussion and tune holders and violins are rhythm as well as melody creators.

The Kings of Convenience haven’t tried anything new with Declaration of Dependence. Not that this is a significant criticism because to be honest five years is a hefty gap from which to escape the criticism of churning out the same material year upon year. And on top of that, they have improved with age.

Sometimes though, the lines between the tracks do get blurred and all that wholesomeness can start to sound like the backing track to a stock cube advert. And if we’re splitting hairs, if I pitted them against other bands loosely within their genre, I would always go for the more edgy, creative choices like Lemon Jelly or Air.

However, that’s not to take away from the fact that Declaration of Dependence is as atmospheric as it is beautiful and you almost can’t help yourself wanting to take a walk in the park amongst the falling leaves every time you listen.

7/10

Filed under: album review, , ,

The Cribs @ Leamington Assembly, Thursday 8th October

There is nothing wrong with being a straight up indie band with plenty of sing-a-long choruses to dance and drink beer to.

God bless The Cribs. The comfortingly down to earth three-now-four-piece from Waakkefield have a knack of reducing their audiences to a mass of worshipping sweaty bodies with their catchy choruses, which actually speak of a real musical intelligence masqueraded by their Yorkshire drawl.

On Thursday 8 October it was the band’s first visit to the Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms, fittingly preceded by Adam Green, whose rock ‘n’ roll fully kneaded and prepped the crowd for what was to come. The effortlessly cool, yet absolutely wasted American bemused and amused onlookers as they watched the intoxicated singer attempt to dance and crowd surf whilst he sang what was to be fair a fairly promising list of songs. Though I couldn’t help noticing a startling similarity between his singing style and the Shooting Stars ‘Club singing round’.

In true form, the Jarman brothers plus new ex-Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr, romped their way into the set with new Ignore The Ignorant track, We Were Aborted, before immediately launching into old favourite Hey Scenesters!, drenching everyone in nostalgic euphoria.

Highlights included I’m A Realist, with the crowd belting out “I’m a realist, I’m a romantic, I’m an indecisive piece of shit!” and the recent single Cheat On Me, which completely dwarfed the album version. Compared to the CD, its melancholy-tinged guitar riffs were more pronounced and Ryan’s vocal-chord fraying chorus sounded all the more wonderfully tragic.

We Can No Longer Cheat You, Our Bovine Public and Men’s Needs hit a special spot, as did the little touches of sarcasm and humour, especially when it was declared, “Leamington this is a public service announcement, crowd surfing is now officially allowed”. By the time Another Number finally arrived the reaction was huge, especially after the track’s hook had done several rounds echoing in hums across the room – the crowd registering their insistent demand for it.

With the band’s refusal to play encores, the gig rolled into what would probably have been traditional encore territory with Be Safe – one of those album numbers that makes the hairs stand up on the back of the neck when played live. Maybe it’s because Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo’s spoken word reverberates a little more, maybe it’s because the chorus sounds so much bigger and louder, either way, it really worked.

Closing on City of Bugs was a fairly unexpected, but inspired choice as the unpredictability really threw a fresh light on how good it is. In fact, it wasn’t just this track where opinions about the band’s new material were dramatically elevated – the same could be said of the whole album. Despite several complaints in reviews that The Cribs played it too safe and familiar, live, the contrasts between new and old became starker. There is still a trademark sound and lyrical depth to their music, but everything feels more rounded and less raw-edged, perhaps due to Johnny Marr’s inclusion.

And on that note, it is worth mentioning that even though someone as revered as Marr has joined what is an already well established band, it doesn’t look to have overshadowed and swamped their style. Nor has it changed them. In fact on the night, Marr could have been any guitarist and the Jarman brothers made sure that the change was seamless, yet effective.

I can’t really fault the Leamington Assembly gig and that’s because The Cribs just are a sublime live band – much better than on CD. Some of their newer tracks may have a hint of Sonic Youth and Stone Roses about the intros, but their likeability and success on the night all boiled down to the fact that they were such a tight unit. That is, as well as a few clinchers including their downplayed on-stage energy, immaculate set list and wry collective northern sense of humour.

 

Cribs setlist:

  •  
    1. We Were Aborted
    2. Hey Scenesters!
    3. I’m A Realist
    4. Emasculate Me
    5. Girls Like Mystery
    6. Cheat On Me
    7. We Share The Same Skies
    8. We Can No Longer Cheat You
    9. Direction
    10. Victim Of Mass Production
    11. Hari Kari
    12. Save Your Secrets
    13. Our Bovine Public
    14. Another Number
    15. Ignore The Ignorant
    16. Be Safe (Features Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo)
    17. Mirror Kissers
    18. Men’s Needs
    19. City Of Bugs

Filed under: gig review,

Maps interview on The Music Magazine 05/10/09

My interview with Maps aka James Chapman is now up at The Music Magazine – well excited!

Go on… have a butchers…

http://www.themusicmagazine.co.uk/features/5895

Filed under: Interview, , , ,

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