Despite their regal moniker, Norwegian folkies Eirik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye are more like sad princes than bold sovereigns. On last year's self-titled debut, the Kings of Convenience proffered a series of fragile, wispy songs that netted a small following of indie music fans and a large number of comparisons to English wimps Nick Drake and Donovan. Deciding to give their glum balladry a healthier shine, the Kings remixed several old songs and recorded some new ones with Ken Nelson, producer for mope-rock poster lad Badly Drawn Boy. The result, Quiet Is the New Loud, is a sparse but elegant effort — the perfect soundtrack to a brisk walk in the cold morning light.
The Kings' sound is best illustrated by the stunning final track, “Parallel Lines,” with its whispered two-part harmonies and gentle acoustic guitars. Throughout the album, the duo stands knee-deep in musty Simon & Garfunkel LPs, with only the occasional concession to modern times in the form of beatbox rhythms. Elsewhere, cello, muffled trumpet, and piano filigrees add minimal ornamentation to the otherwise naked sounds.
The band does a decent job with its English-as-second-language lyrics, especially on nicely contorted greeting-card numbers like “I Don't Know What I Can Save You From.” Unfortunately, the duo's thick melancholia gets a bit nauseating on close inspection. “Weight of My Words,” for instance, gets bogged down with maudlin lines like “I would like to go/ But I can't find the key/ To open my door.” Like Simon & Garfunkel, though, it's not the “poetry” that inspires repeat listening; it's the near-perfect harmonies and hooks. While neither King achieves the celestial heights of ex-choirboy Art Garfunkel, the pair's voices blend with a seamless, delicate beauty.
In an era when chest-thumping rock and hip hop rule the airwaves, there is growing support for sensitive pop acts such as Belle & Sebastian, Elliott Smith, and the aforementioned Badly Drawn Boy. With Quiet Is the New Loud, the Kings of Convenience join the growing herd of hushed, sweater-clad dreamers caught up in picture-perfect reveries.