Rediscovered #13

by Will Cafferky

A Note From The Editor:  The Rediscovered column is too good an idea to let slide. That’s why, even though its original writer, the much-missed Dominic Woodcock, has now graduated, we’ve got someone new to take it over. Enter Will Cafferky, long-time PearShaped writer and current Media Officer, who will be digging around in his musical backlog to supply you with a fortnightly injection of underrated music.

The contemporary Scandinavian folk scene has plenty to be proud of. As a region, it has birthed some of the genres more emotional, and personable music - The Tallest Man On Earth and Lykke Li spring to mind immediately. Whilst on occasion a bit of shallow and superfluous indie-pop may rear it’s chirpy head – I’m looking at you Of Monsters And Men – it is, on the whole, a part of the world where artists value the emotionality of folk music.

This being said, emotionality can manifest in a variety of ways; in the case of Kristian Matsson, the voice behind The Tallest Man On Earth, it often translates as isolationism – his songs often taking the form of a man at a complete loss, yelling into the void. In the case of Norwegian duo Kings Of Convenience, the subject of this week’s column, the relationship between the two artists is an integral aspect of what makes their album Declaration Of Dependence, such a deeply touching piece of work.

Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe met at school. Musically, Øye’s predisposition toward electronic music, synth-pop, and alternative dance has seen him embark on numerous solo ventures, as well as fronting successful group The Whitest Boy Alive. Indeed, by their own admission, the duo’s endeavours into the folk scene were largely circumstantial, following the break-up of their childhood band the notion of an act built on vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars was altogether a more simplistic, and thus attractive prospect. And thus Kings Of Convenience were born, to relatively little fanfare. Two studio albums followed, in 2001 and 2004 respectively, each within their own right “good” albums. Neither was spectacular though, especially when considered in the context of natural contemporaries Belle and Sebastian who were arguably at the peak of their musical prowess throughout the early 2000s. Why then, does Declaration Of Dependence merit rediscovery? Too often are albums understood out of context; no record is created in a vacuum and the emotional and situational position of those behind its creation can make a good album a great one. It’s an appreciation of this context that unlocks the emotional potential of Declaration of Dependence.

The album’s consistent themes of love and loss are such tropes of this particular genre that they can perhaps initially cloud its more powerful, and ultimately simpler overriding sentiment. That being said, it’s a sentiment that hides in plain sight – the title of the record. Øye and Bøe are childhood friends; few relationships in our lives are more simple, more innocent than the ones we forge when we’re children. Yet, inevitably, innocence can’t last. Of course, the friendships can continue far beyond childhood, but they’re never the same.

Declaration Of Dependence then, is best understood as a lament to the loss of the innocence of youth, and the burden of the outside world on the friendship that survived that loss. Perhaps paradoxically, it’s a message that is simultaneously ubiquitous and disguised. The cover of the album features Øye and Bøe sitting by the beach, each facing a different direction. It’s the first and only of their album covers to feature exclusively the two men, and yet the distance between the two is visually stark. Their friendship has survived, and their need for each other has never been more potent, and yet time and circumstance has accentuated their differences. The album’s penultimate track Second to Numb so fittingly claims:

“What is given can’t be returned The cards are in our hands All that is living can be hurt And that’s the end of innocence”

It’s a sentiment that’s rarely explicit, and yet once realised it lends such significant weight to an album that is already musically and lyrically the best the duo produced. Kings Of Convenience are good artists, but Declaration Of Dependence is a prime example of how the relations between the members of a group, and the emotions they inspire, can transform something good into a truly beautiful piece of work.