As far as I’m concerned, Erlend Øye is one of the legends of modern music. Having kicked off his career with Kings of Convenience not much more than a decade ago, he was soon collaborating with Röyksopp on their amazing Poor Leno, recording an exceptional solo album of his own, and not long later, forming The Whitest Boy Alive.
With Kings of Convenience, the aim always seemed to be to make contemporary music but with just acoustic instruments, whereas The Whitest Boy Alive is a little less delineated. Loosely, it’s dance music but made with “real” instruments. Synths do make the odd appearance, but they tend to come in the form of gentle pads and chimes to back up everything else that’s going on.
So there’s something really rather unusual about their sound, and so I think it’s worth celebrating that five years ago this week The Whitest Boy Alive released their second album Rules.
It opens with the punchy bass line of Keep a Secret, which gradually builds into a typically bouncy track. It’s perhaps not as catchy as some of their finer moments, but there’s plenty of that to come later. As a way of easing you back into The Whitest Boy Alive‘s unique sound, it’s not a bad introduction.
Intentions, in much the same way, begins with a very chilled out vibe, and never gets a lot more frantic, but there’s something extremely pleasant about it as it gently bobs along with a lounge-style “vibe”.
Then Courage is, in my opinion, one of the best tracks on the album. The punchy, punctuated synth part which turns up after a minute or so and forms the highlight of all the key parts of the song is somehow particularly memorable. Perhaps not having had anything quite that dramatic on the album up to this point makes it all the more special.
Timebomb is a very clear tribute to the dance influences – the vocal at the start, were it not being sung live, could easily be a sample on an extended dance mix, and the huge synth swells are almost reminiscent of I Feel Love. Then Rollercoaster Ride is one of the few forgettable tracks on here, but it heralds the arrival of something really quite wonderful.
For next comes the brilliant High on the Heels, easily the best track on the album. It’s catchy, it’s even somehow familiar, even though I guarantee you won’t have heard anything quite like it unless you’ve been listening to The Whitest Boy Alive‘s debut Dreams on repeat up to this point. Very special indeed.
What’s probably Side B kicks off with 1517, starting a string of perhaps less breathtaking but still very catchy and enjoyable tracks. It was also, perhaps surprisingly, the one single taken from this album. Gravity follows, with another very memorable chorus, but if nothing else you’ll be feeling very happy and mellow by this stage.
Promise Less or Do More is the other song on here that you could probably be forgiven for forgetting, but then the final pair of Dead End and Island close the album perfectly. The latter could easily be a seven minute deep house track, but instead it’s a seven minute pop song, and is every bit as brilliant.
As with Dreams (2006), Rules is a fun slice of whatever genre you want to pigeonhole it into. It’s a more consistent album too – when it isn’t extremely catchy you do find yourself a little disappointed, which is pretty unfair. But even at its least exciting points, it’s still a very enjoyable album.
You can find Rules at all your regular retailers, such as Amazon here.