Erlend Øye and Erik Bøe are the yin and yang of Kings of Convenience. One, with his introspective look, red hair and glasses, looks like a refugee from the high school chess club, while the other's rakish good looks contribute to his air of rock & roll insouciance. Their 2001 Astralwerks album, Quiet Is the New Loud, not only posited them at the forefront of a European "new acoustic movement," with artists such as Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy) and John Bramwell (I Am Kloot), but proffered the press an exceedingly snappy epigram.
Explaining that he used to be in a rock band, Øye said at the time, "I was getting sick of all the songs going from quiet to loud. I started wondering whether they could go from quiet to even quieter, where the quieter bit is the most intense bit of the song."
Capitalizing on the way the most delicate part of an acoustic song often seems the loudest and most provoking, KOC's gentle drift is punctuated by moments of subtle intensity. Their vocals recall Simon & Garfunkel, with breathtaking harmonies over pretty, acoustic two-guitar melodies, though the dour rainy-day tone is pervasive enough to encourage extreme listlessness.
That, however, is not why it took the Norwegian twosome a little more than three years to follow up Quiet. One of the boys chose to return to school for a degree in psychology, while the other flitted about the landscape, doing a solo album, singing with pop group Röyksopp on their best-selling debut, and touring Europe as a singing, guitar-playing DJ, while also recording an album of electronic music. Despite all the activity, Øye (the shy, prodigious, globetrotting geek) and Bøe (the bookish, attractive homebody) continued to work obsessively on music, exchanging tapes and talking frequently over the phone to compensate for the physical distances separating them.
The new album, Riot on an Empty Street, benefits from the attention and the distractions, finding a more eclectic sound than the prior album, mixing in strings, piano and even electric guitar for a little more depth and breadth of tones. It's a vast improvement. According to Bøe, their songs' near-perfect forms are the results of lots and lots of hammering.
"The everyday life of Kings of Convenience is disagreeing," he recently told MTV Europe. "That's one of the greatest things about our project. We criticize each other so heavily that when you finally manage to convince the other person of your idea, it has to be a good one."