by Sebastian Ruan
Though the Norwegian psych-rockers, I Was A King, stay true to their form, that is psych-ballads, each song on their new 30-minute psych-parade Old Friends, I am left feeling bored. It’s a nice treat for the band to condense the instrumentation and composition of Old Friends into a sitcom-length of time. But even a bad sitcom leaves you with a lesson or a mediocre joke; I Was A King offers nothing to take home, nothing to hum once it’s all over.
The tracks themselves feel like a small conversation you overhear waiting at a bus stop or in line for a slice of pizza, they seem to grasp you with a line or a word or the context but eventually you realize there is nothing there to ease drop on. With Old Friends, the drummer’s upbeat fervor on each track is a nice touch, even turning the slower ballads like “Snow Song” into a slow dance instead of a yawn fest. “Someone Is Waiting” is probably perfect for a walk through the park but with ungrasping lyrics like “Something you gave me I can’t decide / something I just cannot hide away” it seems only necessary for a one-time through.
On first listen I thought I was hearing an early Apples in Stereo record in which their opus-like charm hadn’t panned out yet, like on the 2007 New Magnetic Wonder, where even the less-than-one-minute tracks were something to revisit on a daily basis. I Was A King’s only seconds-length tune “Kontrari” consists of a voice going from one note to the next, exhibiting nothing original or enticing. Where some bands use dissonance to either elicit a cringe-like response or a feeling of angst or whatever the band Women do with it, I Was A King apparently uses it to slightly pressure the listener into turning down the volume. “Forgive and Forget” has such a moment, and considering how late in the album this song appears, I was almost tempted to skip the rest of the songs and move on.
Luckily I made it to the title-track, where the wavy guitar and the effortless percussion finally caught my ear. “Old Friends” is simple and serene, and maybe the whole album should follow in its footsteps. But it doesn’t since what we essentially have is well-crafted pop music to fall asleep to, and not in a good way like AIR and Sigur Rós. Yet, on the final hoorah, I can relate to the story of revisiting your old pals or lovers: it seems easy since you were once friends, but things change. The final verse sums up not only a lost friendship but somewhat of a heartache, “When we met again as old friends / catching up was hard to do. / All those years made you a stranger, / we were innocent but we changed to something new.” And change is not always a bad thing, sometimes it’s not a good thing, but it is inevitable. Maybe I’ll just hope change comes for I Was A King and morphs them into “something new.”