I have been a bit remiss about not writing this one up already! One listen to I Was A King’s “Old Friends” (25 January 2011) and you really feel as if you have found an old, familiar friend … or that proverbial old pair of jeans that slip on so nicely and comfortably. This is the third release by the band (and I am ashamed to say that we have not written about them till now), and, as you listen, you may definitely have a feeling of familiarity (so much early 90s indie is being distilled in this album), but there is something different … distinct. From one of the most precise pop sensibilities to the faint fingerprints of shoegaze, from a touch of the Beatles and sunshine pop to a bit of hipster noise, all of these competing references may drive most bands into a disastrous production, but I Was A King comes from a proud tradition of incredible songwriters and performers – Scandinavia.
Hailing from Norge (Norway), I Was A King has produced an upbeat carnival of music that is full of drama and vitality. Even at its most contemplative, the album is uplifting and carefree. Opening with the intense “The Wylde Boys,” the general mood of the album is set with this slightly over two minutes track: fun, fun, fun! “Echoes,” which follows, is definitely grounded in the 60s, but more of a 60s that has been distilled through the early 90s; furthermore, it features some of the most beautiful strumming on the album. But the experimentation kicks off in the third track, “Learning to Fly.” This track, slowly and methodically, builds itself up, before slowing down to a halt and kicking back into another direction. Here is when you get to witness the ingenious arrangements and the way music can be used to heighten the lyrical drama. This is followed by the strangest of all interludes in “Nightwalking.”
Reality: just as there is no gloom on this album, there is no fluff or filler on this album! Even the contemplative “Snow Song” is refreshing and heartening. Another thing I can easily say about the album is how “noise” gets infused into this album is quite interesting; like the beginning of “Unreal,” which whirls around and around in a frenzy of saxophones before breaking free into some beautiful acoustic strumming and vocals, “noise” is always used to accent what is about to follow. Packed with short, well-crafted songs from beginning to end, the final track, the titular, “Old Friends,” is the one track that stays true to a more “classic” form. Why wait to the end to strut through a no-frills track? It is all about the dramatic nature of the album. In the final moments of the album there is a bit of heartfelt contemplation, because from beginning to end, through it all, every experience has “… made me realize you were always been around.” This is the kind of song that does not need any musical experimentation; the universality of how we all feel about old friends is what really carries the song … and in fact, the album.
I Was A King may reference many different musical styles, but “Old Friends” belongs to none. But that is the thing about great songwriting: it is not easily defined or pigeonholed into a box. And of course, I am sure that there are some people tired of me ranting on endlessly about how talented Scandinavian musicians are, but point blank: when you have a greater exposure to different musical styles and get to distill threads upon threads into your music that are variant and often time contradictory, and yet manage to pull it all together and create something that is engaging… well… that is Scandinavian music! And I Was A King proves this in their take on power pop.
1. The Wylde Boys
3. Learning to Fly
5. Snow Song
6. Someone Is Waiting
8. Forgive And Forget
11. Here To Stay
12. Old Friends
Keep up with I Was A King at their MySpace and Facebook. Here are the likes for iTunes in Norge, UK, and USA, where you can preview and purchase “Old Friends.”