kings452The hushed sounds and sheer earnestness of Kings of Convenience should have been enough to establish them as one of the biggest bands earlier of the decade. With the Norwegian group’s 2001 debut, “Quiet Is the New Loud,” Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambæk Bøe combined lush acoustic instrumentation and intimate lyrics about relationships with a style of harmonization that was all but dead by then. It was a subdued and intimate album that set the stage for 2004’s “Riot on an Empty Street.” They tightened up their sound, and flirted more with strings and percussion, and it worked to make a very full sounding album, featuring the brilliant single “I’d Rather Dance with You.” Five years later, Kings of Convenience have returned from their various side projects with “Declaration of Dependence,” an album that sees the band returning to the sounds of their debut, but still playing to their strengths to produce a welcome return.

Musically, there are a few things that set Kings of Convenience apart from their contemporaries. Most of the duo’s songs are nothing more than two acoustic guitars and the occasional piano or strings thrown in for good measure. The simplicity of the setup works to highlight Øye and  Bøe’s talents. Both of them strum and pick away at their guitars with the greatest of ease, creating an elegant, yet laid back, atmosphere. Many of the guitar hooks are rich and memorable, and have their own sort of soothing lull to them.  Although their instrumentation is very good, it is simply a backdrop for the group’s most endearing musical attribute, their ability to harmonize. Many have compared Kings of Convenience to Simon and Garfunkel, and they continue to show why it is a valid comparison. Both men have great voices in their own right, but when they come together it adds a completely new depth of feeling to their songs.  Not many groups harmonize anymore, and Kings of Convenience deserve a great amount of respect for being able to do it so well. Like the album cover, the songs on “Declaration of Dependence” induce feelings of sitting on a lazy island, a soft breeze blowing, being serenaded by Øye and Bøe.

There are many shining moments on “Declaration of Dependence.” Lead single “Boat Behind” features a cello over a bouncy guitar line, and vivid lyrics that compare a girl to a “wind surfer crossing the ocean on the boat behind.” Both singers alternate verses to great effect on the extremely catchy “Renegade,” which musically has an almost blues like air to it. The album’s shortest song, “Power of Not Knowing” is arguably its’ strongest. With lyrics such as “Maybe it was me that made you old, stole whatever it was that made you glow,” it is at once a heartfelt and heartbreaking song about growing old and not having a firm sense of self identity. Moments like these can be found quite frequently across the record’s 13 tracks, and almost every song feels like it was made with the same attention to detail as the one before it.

Few groups make the kind of quiet, harmony centric songs that Øye and Bøe specialize in, and “Declaration of Dependence” handily demonstrates that they are the forerunners in this underappreciated genre. It is proof that Kings of Convenience are a band that still matters. They may have made one of the quietest albums of 2009, but the album’s overall quality is anything but soft.