A beautiful yet tepid comeback
Quiet is the New Loud. What a fitting title for the debut from this Norwegian duo returning with their first record in over a decade, especially in contrast to the stomp-folk movement that took over the mainstream in their absence. No sweeping chants or booming bass drums here: hell, their fourth album only has one song, “Fever,” with any percussion at all. Eirik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye are confident their dainty melodies, interchangeable vocals, and delicate acoustics can carry a project on their own on their most stripped-back release to date, which is a shocking feat given how low-key they always were. Sadly, Peace or Love would benefit from beginning a little louder, as its generally pleasant vibes are not enough to sustain a full project.
Despite their reputation for being one of the more understated of the post-Sebastian and Belle crop, Kings of Convenience are more than capable of rocking out or bringing in the strings and piano to great dramatic effect. The mid-point of “Cayman Islands” with the upright bass sawing into the subtly swelling acoustic melody is nothing short of gorgeous, and “I’d Rather Dance With You” proved they could write a swinging, beachy pop tune when they wanted to. Peace or Love is easily their most stripped-back and gauzy to date, with an ostensible darker lyrical and musical palette held back by their frontman’s non-charisma.
There are moments that work as intentioned; “Killers” taps into an Arab Strap-like melancholy that might like their vocal gruffness but makes up for this with a surprisingly engrossing hushed yet urgent and frightened delivery. The closing track, “Washing Machine,” lives up to its opening line of spinning inside its titular object with cyclical melodies anchored by anguished strings in the chorus and harmonious co-lead vocals. The closest the album gets to “I’d Rather Dance With You” is “Catholic Country,” with a percussive feel to the guitars and a dramatic edge to the pianos and strings that the rest of the album lacks. There’s no denying the beauty of the record and the twinkle in every guitar string, but it’s dreamy to the point of inducing sleep, and the twisting solos of “Fever” and “Rocky Trail” don’t disguise the missing rustic edge of previous work.
“Catholic Country” features Feist, a frequent collaborator who blows away Bøe and Øye in terms of charisma and texture. They aren’t bad singers, but they blend together and into the background with startling ease. Harmonious co-leads can only go so far when the content is uninteresting. Love is a fine topic even this far into its usage, but so many songs could be summed up in a sentence or paint the protagonist in an unflattering light. “Rumours” is about sticking up for your partner even when hearing nasty things about them, “Love Is A Lonely Thing” delivers cliches about the mysteries of love and how something so miserable can actually be great and “Ask For Help” is about the greatness of working in a team. The occasional burst of self-awareness about not being over an ex despite claims to the contrary on “Comb My Hair” and questioning how love can ever truly end on “Sing About it” does not make up for the nonsensical “Angel” or the complacent helplessness of “Rocky Trail.”
However, the most baffling lines on Peace or Love come on the closing track “Washing Machine,” where Kings of Convenience claim, “I feel so vulnerable when you are not around/ You have so much power over me.“ Since there’s no bite to their performances and the hook is a weakly delivered demand, it seems like a statement of defeat rather something to trigger growth or change. The passiveness in their own stories matches the soft inoffensiveness of their comeback record, as Peace or Love could benefit from having more fight to it in terms of lyrics and music.