ERLEND ؙE IS a tramp. I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Singer-guitarist عe is one-half of Kings of Convenience, a duo from Norway,


King of the Road

ERLEND ؙE IS a tramp. I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Singer-guitarist عe is one-half of Kings of Convenience, a duo from Norway, a nation I stereotypically associate more with pickled herring than warm, buoyant electronic pop. Speaking of biases, I openly admit I disregarded the Kings' eponymous 2000 debut solely because it was issued by Kindercore, a label whose cutesy name makes me cringe regardless of their strong talent roster. Bad call.

I turned a corner with the release of the band's 2001 sophomore outing, Quiet Is the New Loud (on Astralwerks). Longtime readers may remember how this column praised that disc as a low-key gem that specialized in the same type of "seductive, thought-provoking escapism that inspires us not only to get lost in a great book or movie but also to return to it repeatedly in pursuit of new rewards," featuring songs I favorably compared to Everything but the Girl and Simon & Garfunkel.

I initially blanched when the next KoC release, Versus, turned out to be a collection of mostly remixes, the sort of stopgap measure I habitually disregard as an attempt by marketing goons to suck more money out of fans before they find a new favorite band. Wrong again. Though hardly an essential addition to the band's canon, Versus is full of fine reinterpretations by Ladytron, Andy Votel, and even a cover by U.K. labelmates Alfie.

Having already demonstrated an ability to play well with others on Versus (check out track four, "Gold for the Price of Silver," the band's collaboration with DJ Erot), عe next popped up on Melody A.M., the full-length debut from fellow Norwegians R�opp, crooning "Poor Leno," an underground house hit propelled by junkyard percussion. Having been relegated to lead vocals on only one track on Quiet . . . , the sublime "Failure," عe's charming timbre—suggestive of the love child of Nick Drake and Julie London, albeit one enrolled in an ESL program—had been lost on me. But no more.

Since most sophisticated music lovers spent the last week mourning the passing of Nell Carter—and rightfully so, God bless her—it probably escaped your notice that عe's solo album, Unrest (also on Astralwerks), is about to go on sale in better record stores. Well, now you know. Start setting aside your hard-earned shekels for a copy, so you can be first in line when it finally drops (after two postponements—I've been sitting on this column since last October, people!) on Feb. 13.

The concept underlying Unrest is fairly simple, and the execution remarkably successful: Record 10 different songs in 10 different cities with 10 different producers. In Rome, عe met up with Jolly Music to cut "Prego Amor鬢 a cheeky look at Latin love clich鳬 with a couple well-timed sound-effects gags that highlight the humorous subject matter. Atlanta glitch-hop iconoclast Prefuse 73 hooked up with our hero in Barcelona for the percolating "Every Party Has a Winner and a Loser," a number about the ins and outs of social interaction that I liked even better once I realized عe wasn't singing, "Harry Potter Is a Winner and a Loser." Love that Norwegian accent.

Despite the diverse roster of collaborators, the overall character of Unrest sticks pretty consistently with the current vogue for '80s-style synth-pop and electro. "This album is me finally doing an answer to a-ha's Hunting High And Low, the first cassette that I ever bought," admits عe in the accompanying press materials. (One can only imagine his excitement when Kings of Convenience opened for the "Take on Me" boys in front of 45,000 fans back in Norway a couple years ago.) The lead single, "Ghost Trains," written with Morgan Geist of New York disco revivalists Metro Area, recalls the minimalist robot funk of Kraftwerk, as all good songs about modes of travel should. Ditto for "The Athlete," a pairing with newcomers Minizza, although I don't believe the man-machines ever permitted woodwinds to enter their pristine Computer World.

The standout, though, is "Sheltered Life," عe's song with New York outfit Soviet (no, I don't know how he got away with working with two N.Y.C. bands—maybe they hail from different boroughs), best known for "Candy Girl," their infectious contribution to the seminal Electroclash compilation. Over a bubbling backing track that echoes the Human League's "Life on Your Own" (the best song on 1984's overwrought flop Hysteria), seasoned with a dash of Norwegian new-wave pioneers Fra Lippo Lippi, عe sings like his every phrase is an exhalation of powder blue, sweetly scented anesthesia.

Erlend عe spent months traveling around the globe to couple with a wide variety of partners. By my definition, that's a tramp. And, judging from the irresistible pull Unrest exerts on the ears, he's quite the seducer, too.

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