Eleven years after his solo debut, Norwegian singer/songwriter Erlend Øye returns with the winsome and laid-back Legao. Much has changed for the charismatic singer who, at the time of his 2003 debut, was in the midst of a deep electronic phase which was conversely bookended by two fine acoustic albums from his primary outlet, the folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience. While Legao is something new altogether, it has far more in common with Kings' quiet, bookish ballads than with the pulsing electro and disco jams of his first solo dalliance. Now based in Sicily, the worldly Øye traveled to Reykjavík to record Legao (a Portuguese word which basically translates to "great" or "cool") with Icelandic reggae band Hjálmar. At first blush, his gently sunny guitar pop seems pleasant if slightly unassuming. But there is something in Øye's character, a sort of world-weary kindness, that eventually draws you in. With its bright, clean production and indie-island pulse, Legao shines a warm light onto Øye's wistful Nordic melancholia resulting in the kind of record that could either bring comfort on a winter's day or hang back on a sun-baked car radio with the windows down. It's romantic, bittersweet, uplifting, and occasionally sad, but a charmer in all aspects. From the softly upbeat opener "Fence Me In" to the big-hearted percolations of "Rainman," Øye and his crew invite you on a very human journey and it's easy to get swept along. Standouts like "Bad Guy Now" and the elegant piano ballad "Who Do You Report To" showcase the polite vulnerability that makes Øye so appealing as both a singer and a songsmith. As collaborators, Hjálmar were well-chosen and guitarist Portsteinn Einarsson in particular delivers some sparkling and inventive guitar work throughout. Perhaps Legao doesn't have the gritty pathos and mystique that so often causes an album to be flagged as an "important work," but it's a pure and honest work, and one you want to spend some time with.
by Timothy Monger