I Was a King

Slow Century

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The Norwegian band I Was a King previously used the production services of Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake on their 2013 album You Love It Here. Judging by their sound there, and here on Slow Century, his guidance really brings out their jangle pop side. Other albums have been more influenced by shoegaze or dream pop -- not a shock considering their main collaborator for many of them was Serena Maneesh's Emil Nikolaisen -- and 2014's self-produced Isle of Yours added synthesizers and even piano ballads. The shoegaze-free Slow Century is pure pop, with chiming guitars, rich vocal harmonies, and classic power pop song structures that recall all the great bands of the ilk, from the Byrds to the Fanclub and beyond. It's good enough that one could certainly add I Was a King to that list and not think twice about it. The band's main songwriter, Frode Strømstad, has come up with his most consistent and hook-laden set of songs and the band perform them with a light touch and tightly wound energy. Strømstad and co-vocalist Anne Lise Frøkedal sound perfect singing together; his boyish voice and her rich tones meet happily in unusually rich harmony. The duo's guitars blend very well, too, mixing 12-string electric, strummed acoustic, and ringing electric into a warm blanket of sound that's pushed forward gently by the bass and drums of Ole Reidar Gudmestad and Arne K Mathisen. Usually gently, with a relaxed and homemade feel on tracks like "Tanker" or "Tiny Dots, though they can kick up some dust when they need to. "Hatchet," which features some guitar strangling by Jad Fair, and "Run" have some of the aggressive kick of earlier records, but the punch is sugarcoated by sweet harmonies and tenderly detailed lyrics. They balance the electric jangle with a lovely acoustic song with the simple title of "Folk Song" and the kind of melody that gets stuck deep within the brain and is tough to dislodge. Also super sticky is the album's alternate-universe smash hit, "Bubble." It sways and swoons like classic Teenage Fanclub, with an uplifting chorus and a bridge that is subtle perfection. It's easy to see Strømstad running through the song the first time for Blake and the latter thinking ruefully that it's been a while since he's written anything as concise and powerful. The entire album has a simple beauty that any fan of TFC, jangle pop, or power pop can and should embrace. It's certainly the purest distillation of the band's poppy side and shows that they have what it takes to be one of the all-time best, especially when Blake is at the controls.

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