For years, Norway’s neighbor Sweden has invaded international airwaves with famous bands like The Hives; The Hellacopters; and yes, ABBA. Norway gave us 80s popstars A-ha, but that’s about it. Now, Norway sends us I Was a King. Will they lead a Norwegian Invasion? Maybe. On their self-titled album, they successfully combine the late 80s/early 90s sound of Dinosaur Jr. and Teenage Fanclub with light psychedelia. They fit into the sad side of pop which isn’t a bad thing.
But they need to shake off some of the monotony.
Essentially, I Was a King is a duo of Frode Strømstad (lead vocals, guitar) and Anne Lise Frøkedal (vocals, guitar) who recruit a bunch of guest musicians. Depending on your knowledge of indie pop, you may recognize members like Gary Olson of The Ladybug Transistor. I Was A King’s sound is marked by Frode and Anne Lise’s jangly, distorted guitar riffing and heavy drumming. Frode toys with some J. Masicis-style fuzzy licks around the edges. However, he never lets them develop into a solo.
The album is a bit of a blur because it’s hard to remember what each song sounded like. They’re too short to leave an impression. Just when they begin to get intriguing, they end. All the energy they put out in their intros peeters out in a wash of fuzz. Their compositions could really soar with more contrasting passages. “Norman Bliek,” though, sounds fantastic taking off and landing with its intro hook.
Thin vocals sap the power out of the pop. Being part Norwegian, I know that we’re known for our flat voices compared to those sing-songy Swedes. Frode deserves credit for sounding melodic. But he’s only got one style — a love-worn voice that drones. Anne Lise’s voice is barely noticeable because of an echo effect which makes her sound like she’s being recorded through a wall. Surprisingly, this doesn’t happen when they play live. I’ve watched some clips on the internet of them playing in a tiny bar and they sound great. When Anne Lise’s rousing voice combines with Frode’s, it’s like a giant cover has been lifted off. Nudging the volume up and discarding the echo would make the album versions more like their live sound.
I’d be lying if I said that I Was A King doesn’t try to mix things up. They cover Larry Norman’s “Hard Luck Bad News,” a woozy Beatlesque feeling trip. Certain tracks feature piano, horns, and strings in the background. After listening to the intro to “It’s All You,” I think the pianist has a bright future in a Thelonious Monk Jazz cover band.
It’s not like the group didn’t make me stop and listen. I was just distracted by the band’s stylistic decisions which make me shrug rather than clap. I can’t say I like them yet. It’s like trying to appreciate halfway bloomed flowers. Then you look up and notice the whole garden is filled with the same plants.
I Was A King's MySpace page
I Was A King's Website
Performing "Norman Bleik" on Norwegian television. The music is pre-recorded but the vocals are live.
Performing "Step Aside" at John Dee in Oslo, Norway.Powered by Sidelines