Your relationship to the Kings of Convenience is probably inversely proportional to your feelings for, say, Pabst Blue Ribbon, hockey fights and Baywatch: Chances are slim that PBR will soon be marketing its wares with the Kings' "Stay Out of Trouble." (Although Volvo could call any day.) Since this Norwegian duo made waves in Ibiza's chill-out rooms, and helped dub a musical movement with their previous wave-maker Quiet Is the New Loud, Kings of Convenience has made its living repackaging the musical DNA of Simon and Garfunkel and Nick Drake for the post-E generation.
Riot on an Empty Street is no different, but like their inexplicable rave-enthusiast fans, the Kings have moved on within a certain idiom. While previous Kings records existed to some extent within a Euro-indie context -- quiet-yet-distorted guitars, solipsistic woe-is-the-new-wow lyrics sung by vocalists sometimes mistaking "breathy" for "passionate" -- Riot borrows more from another continental club-land phenomenon: twee dance-floor jazz pop. Wait -- that doesn't sound right, that sounds horrible. How about, "lite-jazz-influenced dance-pop"? Oh, Jesus, that's absolutely despicable. And since Riot is a great album once you're used to it, let's just call it "Oye pop," for Kings of Convenience co-founder (and, on a recent DJ Kicks installment, Oye-pop deejay) Erlend Oye.
For the definition, check out "Love Is No Big Truth," a four-on-the-floor bathtub-house number of the highest order, all "meet me at the cemet'ry gates" happy melancholy, augmented-pop-chord guitar, and smoothed out banjo arpeggio. Or "I'd Rather Dance With You," with its chilled Barney Sumner vocals and dance-beat viola plucking. Or "Misread," half-stolen from Oye favorites Phoenix, the French pop group whose Euro smash "If I Ever Feel Better" provides Oye and Kings partner Eirik Glambek Boe with seemingly limitless inspiration.
Simon and Garfunkel still show up on Oye and Boe's sleeves: The Riot leadoff track "Homesick" has the close-to-the-mike audibly pursing lips and guttural clicks of that duo's saccharine sadness, not to mention some Simon-says lyrics. ("I can't stop listening to the sound / of two soft voices blended in perfection / from the reels of this record that I've found.")
But for the most part, Riot on an Empty Street sticks to more enlightened pop formats, from semi-ironic cheesy Euro dance to acoustic bossa nova. With viola, upright bass, piano, and the beautiful female vocals of Canadian chanteuse Feist augmenting many of the already worthy songs, and with a few actual beats lying around, Riot has become something more than the Kings of Convenience were once capable of: a multi-faceted album worth getting out of the bath for.