Oslo, Norway, is a place of darkness and long, cold winters, but the warm, sweeping psychedelic rock of I Was A King seems to completely ignore the homeland of its members. Indeed, if anything, it’s more derivative of the California pop of the early ‘60s, with simple rhythms and high-pitched crooning swimming like a sparkling dolphin in an ocean of guitars and thick drum rhythms. Immediately, listening to the band’s eponymous debut brings to mind the revisionist hard rock of Jesus & Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine, but it’s still got enough of its own growl to feel fresh and vicious.
I Was A King’s best moments happen when they incorporate inventive instruments like strings, horns, and harps, into their distorted melodic pop. Songs like “Stay Warm” reaffirm the band’s marriage of The Beatles’ unabashed romantic nonsense with the grit and edge of noise-rock. The nonsensical lyrics, supposedly written in some form of English, add to the surreality of the experience. It’s a wonderful study in the power of simplicity and energy. Originality and skill are wonderful and admirable, but I Was A King succeeds purely on the merit of smiling, winking joy.
I Was A King is not dark or brooding, but it’s easy on the ears, and surprisingly deep given a few spins. It’s this year’s first great, simple rock album accomplishing a lot simply by recycling old ideas, with an enthusiasm and celebratory energy that adds freshness to the clichés they play with.