Frode Strømstad, the mastermind behind I Was A King, is becoming an accidental maestro of curious juxtapositions: sweet and sour, timeless brevity, easy chaos. Unaffected and honeyed voices (Strømstad and Harrys Gym front woman Anne Lise Frøkedal) float through a maelstrom of garage-guitar-fuzz and duct-taped drum kits, and melodies that seem to contain forever are wrapped in tiny packages of ‘three minutes or less’. What started as a series of bedroom recordings became a recording project between two childhood friends (Strømstad and Emil Nikolaisen of Serena Maneesh).
The result was released in 2007 as the EP Losing Something Good for Something Better. It was dubbed ‘royally brilliant’ and given 8 out of 10 by NME. The Independent and The Sunday Times perked up their ears and chimed in with the praise, and The Guardian said, “Norwegian wunderkind Strømstad takes ol’ lankhair’s ramshackle rock and squeezes it through a dreampop filter…. If Alan McGee hadn’t wound down Creation, this lot would have been first in the queue to sign on the dotted line. File next to: Fountains Of Wayne, Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Strawberry Wine-era My Bloody Valentine.” Shortly after the release of Losing Something Good for Something Better, Anne Lise Frøkedal officially joined the group to complete the core. Two years later, I Was A King’s follow-up self-titled release found the tent-pegs widened and more collaborators in the mix (Frøkedal, Nikolaisen, Sufjan Stevens, Daniel Smith of Danielson and Gary Olson of Ladybug Transistor, among others). All brought their varied and unique gifts to the mix, and heads began to turn again. As MOJO put it, “…in the course of its half-hour, this vital and warm album’s 15 songs melodically tumble along so joyously that I Was A King might as well be all their reference points rolled into one. It’s like Britpop never happened.”
After a year of touring, Strømstad enlisted Daniel Smith to produce the next record. Entering the studio with nothing more than a handful of song sketches, a roomful of new and different collaborators (John Ringhofer of Half-handed Cloud, Kevin Shea of Talibam!, and Joshua Stamper of Danielson and Ben + Vesper), and a little less than a week to record everything, I Was A King played, hammered, sawed, and strummed, and their second full-length, Old Friends, took shape. The result is IWAK’s strongest effort yet. MTV Iggy’s Beverly Bryan says: “At first you might think you are just listening to a pleasant sixties-obsessed, Beatles-esque pop album and settle in for some pretty tunes. But soon other, more interesting features appear on the horizon. They’ll lead you happily astray until you find yourself wandering through Wonderland proper.”
This is music that is full of air and rush, cut free from heartless, cold mechanics, rushing into the very center of joy. It’s like running through a forest on a moonless night or jumping into a pond from a branch twenty feet above. It’s boarding an old roller-coaster; the tracks creak just enough under the weight of the cars to add an element of danger but you can’t stop smiling, and the whole affair is over much too soon.