Author: Jordan Capizzi ’12
Recently, while surfing the wide array of online music stores that today’s internet has to offer, a friend of mine stumbled upon Paul Simon’s entire discography. Being a good friend, he generously shared the fruits of his cyber expedition with me, a like minded lover of popular music. As I listened to over three decades worth of music from one of our culture’s most praised songwriters, I couldn’t help but notice the complexity of the arrangements, the cleanness of the production, and the overall fanfare that had slowly permeated a career that originally caught its wind on the popularity of acoustic-guitar based folk music. It seemed that Simon had been evolving from the moment he and Art Garfunkel released Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. in 1965 to the moment he released his most recent solo album, Surprise, in 2006.
But what, you might ask, does any of this have to do with the Norwegian folk duo Kings of Convenience and their latest album, Declaration of Dependence? Is this seemingly random introduction simply a very short essay on one of classic rock’s most recognizable faces? Or, could it be a not-so-subtle ploy of mine to integrate a Paul Simon reference into each one of my reviews? Really, it’s neither. What this introduction is meant to do is display the heights that a folk musician can reach.
We’ve seen the same type of evolution through folk rock legends like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, or, on a more contemporary scale, bands like Wilco or The Dodos. There’s nothing more satisfying than to see a group of talented musicians find their niche and strike out on a bold, alarming new path to be greeted with success. On another note, there’s nothing more frustrating than to sit idly by while one of your favorite groups stagnates, wallowing through their entire career in the safe haven of what made them initially interesting.
The Kings of Convenience fall somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios with their latest effort, sadly closer to the side of stagnation. On their third proper studio album, the Kings come to the party with the same set of tricks they’ve always turned: delicate voices in harmony and lightly picked acoustic guitars. That’s not to say that either of these things fail to serve their purpose. Quite the contrary, actually. The picking in “Power of Not Knowing,” is gorgeous, one of the most memorable moments of the album, in fact. Also noteworthy are the vocal performances on standout track “Mrs. Cold,” where harmonies, rather than being a constant throughout the song, are tastefully provided to highlight key lines throughout the body of the piece. The same can be said for the vocal performances on the fabulous “Boat Behind.” Lyrically our Norwegian friends also set out to impress, dealing with issues of faith and internal conflict in a very human way. Even the production peps up a bit at times with the addition of violins and upright bass parts in certain songs, but these slight instances of greatness, rather than make the album richer as a whole, frustrate the listener with dreams of what could have been.
Declaration of Dependance is not a bad album, per say, but I would like to call attention to the comfort with which it seems to have been made. There’s no tension. There’s no excitement. There’s nothing truly provocative about this collection of thirteen songs, and that’s where the album’s greatest weakness lies.