March 6th, 2016 marks fifteen years since millennials found our generation’s Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel. Steel strings by Erlend Oye, nylon strings by Eirik Glambek Boe, and delicate harmonized vocals by both, Norwegian pop icons Kings of Convenience blessed the ears of budding hipsters the world around, pronouncing (not shouting) from the rooftops that Quiet is the New Loud.
Before I lost all my CDs and laughed about it, before I was falling asleep with an iPod, and even before I’d fully unplugged from Dave Matthews (and his Band), the stylus of my friend’s TT dropped on track-one/side-one of this touching album—their first studio—and four bars later I heard two voices. Not two people singing. Two distinct voices. Stereo sound in perfect harmony.
HiFi no longer belonged to my parents.
By track four — “I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From” – with my head right next to the driver, I was confounded and struggling with how best to give each ear equal air-time. Just then Ian Bracken’s Cello arrives intimately on the scene. Calming, intricate, emotive, and just plain gorgeous to behold, Quiet achieves a sublimely subtle and engaging musical experience.
With top-notch recording and production by Astralwerks, each detailed note and every savory phrase sends the listener deep into the ether, where definitions fade and only senses remain. Eyes closed, volume up, head swaying, we were drunk on invaluable inflections and cheap beer. The jam bands of my youth seemed to fade away with the cascading passages of those tender strings.
I bought my first record player a week later.
My friend still has the cherished original pressing he bought for twenty bucks in 2001—something I never, ever talk about—but us regular people can demo the album on Spotify or Apple Music. (News in just in time for print: the album is scheduled for re-release on vinyl, April 8th!)
Just when we’d worn the LP down sufficiently, and after Quiet’s mellow strides were in want of a kick in the ass, Kings offered their 2004 sophomore studio album Riot on an Empty Street. The first five notes of “Homesick”—cut #1—I exhaled a sigh of relief. Artists have their whole lives to write the first album and only a few years to write and record the next. How often have we heard the words It’s not as good as their first album (don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it…it’s super obscure…it barely exists in fact). You don’t have to worry about that. Kings dive into Riot like no time has passed.
Cut #6, “Sorry or Please” is a jazzy expression. In addition to the usual suspects, this track enjoys upright bass, trumpet, banjo, and viola. They proceed to kick it up a notch with plenty of faster tempos and even songs that straight make you want to shake it. The horn section grows to include trombone. Vocals take a surprising twist by featuring Canadian artist Feist as lead for two songs. When she sings you think it’s her band you must have been hearing all along. Listen to the last song, “The Build-Up” just before you go to sleep. Leslie Feist’s outro will be with you in the morning.
Riot is hard to find on vinyl. But if you have $20 you can order the 2009 album Declaration of Dependence—aren’t these titles fantastic?—on vinyl, and I suggest you do. The first song, “24-25” is one I often demo at trade-shows and really stands up to the HiFi Challenge.
Not unlike Scandinavian design, the Bergen-based duo exemplifies hard-fought perfection in every detail. Before you know it, those same hipsters which lauded only the original album will regale you with “Yeah, yeah—all their music sounds the same…”
You know what? It doesn’t matter that much, when all your music is great.
Scott McGowan is Sales Director of PS Audio, which is his dream job. His coolest possessions are his Studer Revox A77 reel-to-reel tape deck, and his Technics 1210-MKII turntable. He doesn’t like TV very much. He loves things you can touch, and he spends a strange amount of time reflecting on the physical properties of aluminum. Wikipedia is his secret best-friend. His house is littered with record sleeves and liner notes. He collects headphones passionately. Most nights he stays up too late listening, reading, writing. His favorite author is James Joyce. He lives with his wife in Denver, where he writes fiction, poetry, editorials, and the occasional music review.