Kings of Convenience, the Norwegian indie-folk pop project of musicians Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe, is OK with taking it slow: It’s been almost 12 years since its last effort, 2009’s wonderful Declaration of Dependence. Though its discography now spans a mere four albums, the group’s music has always reflected the motto of Scandinavian minimalist design: simplicity is key, less is more.
Unsurprisingly, the group returned with one of the cleanest, breeziest albums of 2021, titled Peace or Love, a release so low-key that it’s practically imperceptible to radar. It’s made up of 11 tracks so soft, smooth and familiar that the group’s comeback feels more like a long-lost whisper finally arriving on the shore than a direct reemergence into the spotlight.
Peace or Love comes rather unadorned — considering this is the duo’s first album in more than a decade — yet this is to be expected. There are no new musical tricks; instead, Øye and Bøe continue down the rabbit hole, pulling the most out of simple pleasures. They push the craft even further in their minimalist pursuits, essentially finding new ways to spin heavenly bliss from the template of Chad and Jeremy’s “A Summer Song.”
Across the album, acoustic guitars are the name of the game. Lines ring out cleanly as they twinkle, dancing alongside the breathy intertwining vocals of Øye and Bøe. They offer enough variation to stay interesting, though there isn’t a single guitar line that isn’t clearly trying to sound sweet. When the guitar interplay takes its time, such as in the album’s opener “Rumours,” the duo is at its most romantic, delicately unfolding the beauty of its carefully considered melodies.
At other turns, the guitars turn urgent, forming competent rhythm sections out of each’s percussive plucking, such as on “Angel” and the Feist-assisted “Catholic Country,” which boast a distinctly Bossa-Nova feel. “Fever” features actual drums, and uses the more noticeable rhythm to draw listeners into the song’s cycle as the duo compares the experience of loving and wanting to be loved to a gentle clash between “warm and cold.”
Lead single “Rocky Trail” feels like the closest thing to a departure for Kings of Convenience; it also happens to be the record’s shining moment and among the group’s best work. The song avoids a typical verse-chorus-verse structure as its arrangement races along, and its peak provides the closest thing to pure elation that Peace or Love has to offer. Satisfyingly placed splashes of colorful keys and small little musical walk-downs prove Øye and Bøe perfectly capable of a little extra panache, and lyrics that detail the regrets of falling in love hint at some genuinely interesting emotional conflict underneath the pleasantries. On an album that at times can sound as calm as night, the highlight is as loud as a crashing wave.
Despite its title, Peace or Love is a largely uniform affair, perhaps too much so. The only sort of tension lies in the soft emotional release of the songs’ themes; the rest is smooth as butter. Øye and Bøe find different avenues to look at the complexities of love, often coming across as vaguely mysterious. But it’s part of the charm. This is music that is as light as a feather — pristine and elegant in its simplicity — that, in sum, feels like emotional reflection underneath the gentle warmth of cozy blankets. The songs are designed for comfort; to describe them as perfect for rest and relaxation is by no means a negative appraisal.
“How can anyone expect you to/ Solve all the problems addressed to you,” the duo croon not far from the album’s start. With Peace or Love, Kings of Convenience may not provide any of the hard-hitting answers to navigating romance and the turbulence of life, but if anything, the group is definitely sure to help make the journey feel as weightless as possible.