by Leah Sottile
Scotland's got Belle & amp; Sebastian, we've got Iron and Wine and (had) Elliott Smith. Norway, well, they've got the Kings of Convenience.
They're a simple strumming and syncopating duo, made up of one guy named Erlend and another guy named Eirik, who play sedated, pleasant music. The two are Norway's new musical sweethearts (since A-ha has kinda fallen off the map), and their new album, Riot on an Empty Street, is the stuff of candy hearts, holding hands and watching summer sunsets -- it's simple and it's sweet.
You can kind of get the gist of the album by just flipping over Riot and checking out the song titles: "Homesick," "Love is No Big Truth" and "I'd Rather Dance With You" are just a few. They are titles that are easy on the eyes, and the lyrics do much the same on the ears. Erlend and Eirik never get too serious, but also aren't producing anything too fluffy in their songs. On their first track, "Homesick," the two blend their voices in a Simon and Garfunkel kind of way, whispering words about making their bosses unhappy, but trying to find their way in the midst of things. The next few tracks are mostly the same -- talking about having good friends and riding bicycles. While that all sounds elementary and boring, it's really quite lovely.
They are honest and no-frills lyricists -- maybe because English is their second language. Whatever the reason, it's refreshing. On "Stay Out of Trouble," the two sing as if writing a love letter: "I wish I had your scarf still, that once embraced and kept me warm / I wish you could be with me / in these last days when I am hopelessly poor / Stay out of trouble, stay in touch / try not to think about me too much." It's straightforward and average as far as lyrics go, but what's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.
And it's when those average-Joe lyrics and breathy, mellow voices are paired with a steel string guitar, piano and the occasional cello and viola that the Kings of Convenience's talent truly shines. It's uncomplicated and plain, and, for those reasons, makes it one of the most dynamic and listenable records of the year.