A Collection of Icelandic Album Reviews by Wim Van Hooste

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nóra "Himinbrim"

Multi-instrumentalist indie pop band Nóra had a blast with their debut album “Er einhver að hlusta?” (Is anyone listening?) in the summer of 2010. Although the band has been compared (too) much with Arcade Fire. Brother and Sister Egill & Auður, started to make music, together with Hrafn, in a garage. Het team was completed later on with Frank Arthur Blöndahl Cassata and drummer Bragi Páll Sigurðarson.
Their 2nd album “Himinbrim” (Great Northern Diver) opens with “Sporvagnar”, a track possibly maybe made for the next James Bond movie. In each song the band is showing how to bring a song to a climax. All songs opens with the end of the previous song, except the epilogue. Track 5 and 10 are 2 instrumental intermezzos, some sort of Twin Peaks moments. The most beautiful songs are “Sporvagnar”, “Kolbítur”, “Himinbrim”, “Það sem við munum”, “Vatnið yfir lækinn”, but the point omega is the apocalyptic track “Hreinsun”, probably the best Icelandic song of 2012.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Svavar Knútur "Ölduslóð"

Svavar Knútur began his musical career as singer-guitarist in the band Hraun (Lava). After two albums, the members went their own way. Troubadour Svavar, from the West Fjords, started out as a singer-songwriter in the fjord folk subgenre. His musical influences are both Nick Drake and Nick Cave, both Bonnie Prince Billy and Kris Kristofferson as Leonard Cohen and Cat Stevens. "Ölduslóð" (way of the waves) is the third solo album, the successor of Kvöldvaka (Campfire Songs, 2009) and Amma (songs for my grandmother, 2010). All these albums are intimate, acoustic records. All albums have a cover drawing made by Svavar’s daughter. For his third piece, he had both vocal and piano support from the Czech artist Markéta Irglová. Her input results in a good synergy with Knútur’s voice. In the second song there is a funny reference to the Bloodhound Gang: ‘The roof is on fire’. Svavar additionally holds a penchant for putting as many as possible la la la's into his songs, such as in the song "Komdu". It is a quiet album that ends with the religious "Prayer for the dead". Ölduslóð is by far the strongest piece of Svavar’s oeuvre.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tilbury "Exorcise"

Tilbury is a supergroup with members of the bands Skakkamanage, Jeff Who?, Moses Hightower, Valdimar, Amiina, Sin Fang and Hjaltalín. The band was soon enthusiastically received in their homeland: the Icelandic Belle and Sebastian has risen. It all started in the summer of 2010 as a solo project of Þormóður dagsson, the drummer/ex-drummer of Skakkamanage / Jeff Who? / Hudson Wayne. He is the brother of the renowned cartoonist Hugleikur dagsson.
Debut "Exorcise" was released on the Record Records label in May 2012.
This jumble of artists makes folky pop music with synthesizers, indeed, in the vein of Belle and Sebastian. Tilbury however develops its own sound, perhaps at times a little too smooth.
The album starts strongly with the single "Tenderloin". Furthermore, the songs get a bit sleepy, to awaken again with "Picture”. Towards the end, the long player is finally rougher and the devil exorcised. "Eclectic boogaloo" is my favorite track because of the witty guitar. "Filet Mignon", the valve and the ninth song, is the other pearl.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

HAM "Svik, harmur og Dauði"

If you think about ham, you don’t expect to get an Icelandic rock band on your plate. Yet HAM (Happy, Angry, Mad) is a well known phenomenon on the Icelandic music soil since 1988. Björk is a huge fan of this cult band with a solid fan base in their home country. Several times HAM was the supporting act for The Sugarcubes in the United States (1988). In 1989 the album "Buffalo Virgin" was released on One Little Indian, the successor of the controversial album "Hold". In 2011, then came a full-fledged sequel with the title "Svik, Harmur og Dauði" (Betrayal, Sorrow and Death). In the meantime there were several live albums released. HAM claims to play no metal and is most comparable with Rammstein. Only these Icelanders were a decade earlier than the Germans, with their bulldozer sound with gothic influences; Rammstein avant la lettre. This guitar workmen create a wall of sound, complemented by the shrill sound of singer Ottarr Proppé and the deep voice of singer-guitarist Sigurjon Kjartansson. Best tracks on the album are: "Dauð Hora" (dead prostitute), "Alcoholismus chronicus," "Gamlir Svikamenn Á Ferd" (old betrayers on the road) and "Ingimar".

Hellvar "Stop that noise"

Once upon a time there were 2 Icelandic philosophy students in Berlin: Heiða Eiríksdóttir (former singer of the band Unun) and Geir Elvar Sævarsson (member of the anarchistic group DYS). With the guitars around their neck Heiða & Elvar decided to start performing with their beloved laptop annex drumcomputer under the name Hellvar, Heiða + Elvar. Together with bassist Flosi Þorgeirsson, of the famous group HAM, they worked on their debut album back in Iceland. This album "Bat out of Hellvar" was the first release on the new label Kimi Records in 2007. In the following years the trio transformed into a quartet and a quintet eventually. On their second album "Stop that noise" (Kimi Records, 2011), the band found a solid sound, resulting in 9 poppy postpunk rock songs. The sound refers to Garbage and Republica, with a dash Sugarcubes, but with more balls on Björk's body. In other words estrogen singing with guitars & drums driven by testosterone firework. There's even a song in French on their repertoire: "Morceau the gai (e)té". Chanteuse Heiða has a tradition to uphold as Icelandic girl speaking & singing in French. My favorite song is the philosophical "Ding an sich." But the other 8 tracks will probably also appeal to you. The album was also released in an acoustic version, with the songs of the 2 releases in a summer jacket: "Noise that stopped".

Ghostigital "Division of Culture & Tourism"

Six years after "In Cod We Trust" (2006) the dynamic duo Einar Örn Benediktsson (ex-Kukl, former Sugarcubes singer) and producer Curver Thoroddsen, is back with a third studio album: "Division of Culture & Tourism" (Ipecac, June 2012). In the meantime they performed "A quiet afternoon/Sirkus Requiem" live at Airwaves 2009, this time along with partner in crime Finnbogi Pétursson. Live the band consists of minimum 2 performers, sometimes growing to a gang of 9 or so artists together on stage. For this third release, they could count on the help of a large group of musical friends (Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz, King Buzzo of the Melvins) in creating their experimental, avant garde potpourri. A mix of vocals (David Byrne of Talking Heads, for example), spoken word and rap (Dälek, Sensational) on top of the fluffy carpet of industrial noise and beats, is the revolutionary result. The album starts with a tune for Ghostigital specially written by Stilluppsteypa. Despite working with a bunch of copains I find the tracks without this additional contribution still the strongest: "Dark in here", "Bursting", "Numb" and "Hovering Hoover Skates".

LEGEND "Fearless"

In Iceland it is also back to the 80’s with the electrosynth-goth-doom-pop duo LEGEND. Krummi "let's get a tattoo" Björgvinsson, the frontman of post-hardcore band Minus, and keyboard player Halldór Bjornsson form the group. The band, named after the Ridley Scott film (1985), produced their first album "Fearless" (april 2012). The 2 friends share a passion for the music of Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, Ministry and Throbbing Gristle. Krummi is the son of pop legend Bo (Björgvin) Halldórsson. Krummi and Halldór are as well members of the country band Esja. Krummi's sister is a singer of the band residing in the States Steed Lord. Another Icelandic musical family ... In 3 years time the duo wrote 10 songs. Song numero uno "Amazon War" begins with a doom-goth tune. Track 2 "Benjamite Bloodline" is based on an electronic body music beat. Number 3 "City" on the album made me immediately think of a meeting of Billy Idol with the Pet Shop Boys. Number four and five bath more in a Depeche Mode atmosphere, when Dave Gahan decided to make his skin a tattoo art landscape. The other songs are echoing tributes to their idols. This album is not original, it dabbles in the rich tradition of 80's new wave and dark wave, but LEGEND does so with aplomb.

Sudden Weather Change "Sculpture"

Sudden Weather Change is a rock band consisting of students from the art academy. They started as a 11-piece noise band which then transformed to the classical 5-in-a-band. About a year ago Benjamin M. Stacey left the group. So the quartet worked diligently to a successor of the debut album with the impossible title "Stop! Hand Grenade in the Name of Crib-Death 'more about? "(Kimi Records, 2009). Before this 1st disc they released a home-made EP (2006), followed by a mini-Tour de France. Three years ago they were already named one of the most promising Icelandic artists. With the support of producers Ben Frost, Icelandic famous Aussie, and Þorbjörn G. Kólbrúnarsson, they created a "Sculpture". This sculpture was by the band released late July 2012. Location for the shooting were the Greenhouse Studios of renowned Valgeir Sigurdsson, a Bjork protégé. This second full release sounds completely different than their previous work. In the old days the group was often compared to Pavement and Sonic Youth. The new album has a bit of a concept album: it invites you to listen to the whole album in one take, because the 9 songs almost blend into one another. The guitars, drums and vocals make this sculpture more polished than the grenade, and the harmonies are now at their best. However, it remains fortunately many sharp edges. All songs are fantastic, cinematic Ennio Morricone-like intros, often supplemented with creepy noises. I hear clear similarities with the third album by the group Reykjavik!, "Locust Sounds". And last but not least it is a good live band.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reykjavik! "Locust Sounds"

Six piece rock band Reykjavík!—don’t forget the exclamation mark to avoid confusion with Iceland’s capital city—bring us what is without any doubt this year’s best album artwork.
And that’s not all! Finally, Reykjavík! made their grown-up, mature record—although their two previous ones, ‘Glacial Landscapes, Religion, Oppression & Alcohol’ (2006) and ‘THE BLOOD’ (2008), were not ugly at all.
But let’s call this the rise of Reykjavík! v2.0. Or Oxford’s Ride having a cosy, but loud, barbecue with their Icelandic friends  Gavin Portland and I Adapt—the boys hang in the backyard, while some family and friends (Mugison to name just one) provide extra meat and beer.
Great vocals, noisy guitars, banging drums: this is ‘Rokk í Reykjavík—The Revenge’. This is certainly one of the best records made in Iceland this year. Need I say more? Yes, I love the track titles: ‘INTERNET,’ ‘Hellbound Heart,’ and ‘Knifestorm.’ However, as an MD, my favourite track is certainly ‘Nurse, Please’.
The Reykjavík! cocktail this winter is a mixed mélange of soft and sweet alcohol, with a heavy crème fraiche topping. Not healthy, but delicious.

Ruddinn "I need a vacation"

Ruddinn is a one-piece band starring Bertel Ólafsson, who squeezes pop, rock, indie and electro into the blender at his home studio in Hafnarfjörður. The result is a strange cocktail of ‘80s electronica with guitars. On this third album, ‘I Need A Vacation,’ the monotonous voice of einzelgänger Ruddinn is accompanied by the distinct voice of Heiða Eiríks (known for her work with Unun and now Hellvar). With the exception of two songs that lack the female touch, the male and female voices balance well over the 11 track album. The album sounds like Unun attending an ‘80s Britpop party with The Human League, New Order and Pet Shop Boys, remixed by the GusGus of the ‘90s. My favourite songs on the record are ‘Too Distant For Us,’ ‘Cover The Distance’ and the title track, ‘I Need A Vacation.’ This is definitely Ruddinn’s best album so far.