It’s hard to make a case for 2001 as being one of music’s better years.
After all, it’s still with a shudder that we remember nu-metal unwisely splicing itself with rap, resulting in the mindless testosterone popshot of Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water whilst Britain suffered instead from miserabilists such as Turin Brakes and Travis.
Gems were more rewarding, however, the harder you were made to look: from Bergen in Norway, fresh faced duo Kings Of Convenience didn’t so much swim against the tide as completely ignore it on their gracefully understated debut Quiet Is The New Loud.
Many acts have ridden the Scandi pop wave since, but whilst one of KoC’s halves in Erlend Øye has enjoyed a modest parallel solo career, his partnership with Eirik Glambek Bøe has been less fruitful; Peace Or Love is only their fourth release and marks the end of a twelve-year hiatus since 2009’s Declaration Of Dependence.
It would be easy to assume they’ve been working elsewhere, but according to Bøe the delay was caused by quite the opposite problem.
Created during a period which marked them passing into their forties and the inevitable upheavals that transition can bring, he claims instead that they re-recorded what ended up being this slight, thirty-seven-minutes or so an obsessive five times before reckoning it good enough for release.
Does it sound then like a collection of songs honed day and night until the process reached aural perfection? Well actually, it’s hard to tell – you certainly can’t hear any places where either of them seem to have been at odds with each other.
Opener Rumours drops immediately into that same wispy, reflective groove as before, earnestly picked guitars and gossamer vocals recalling Paul Simon or Nick Drake had he come from near the Arctic Circle.
Accusations of still being too nice for their own good will inevitably follow but this is, if nothing else, an attractive face value that sounds wistfully sweet and open.
On the floaty bossa of Angel they glimpse temptation from the judgmental vantage point of middle age: ‘Angel, no doubt an angel/Though she might be just slightly promiscuous’, while Catholic Country’s greater substance is due in small part to a sparkling guest appearance from Feist. The curio Fever, oddly though, references feeling, ‘warm and cold and warm and cold’.
It’s this quality of being happily weird that helps to rescue the pair from any accusations of beige or playing to the Café Del Mar crowd; on Killers anger at betrayal is real (‘The lies that you made up to hide your crime’), while Love Is A Lonely Thing is austere to the point of bleakness, talk of ‘pain and suffering’ while barely a strum is heard in the background.
If you accept that parts of this sound a touch familiar, then that leads to wonder at what Øye and Bøe felt was so broken in the first place.
Without that subtext, Peace Or Love would just represent another chapter in Kings Of Convenience’s plan to inherit the earth, music for an afternoon staring up at the sky which begs for neither scrutiny nor forgiveness.
2001 wasn’t a great year for music, but there were places to shelter from the storm, and twenty years later this presents a near identical haven for daydreaming refugees.