The motivation for this Iceland-based post came from Gina and Bob. Gina introduced Bob to Icelandic singer/songwriter Ásgeir (Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson), and that set the wheels in motion for additional discoveries (such as Kiasmos and GusGus). They shared the discoveries with us, and suggested a write-up.
A. Depth of Knowledge
We started with a “surface knowledge” of Icelandic music. That’s a fair statement about someone having an appreciation for performers such as Björk, Of Monsters and Men and Sigur Ros. What we didn’t appreciate was the depth of the music being generated within the country. The population is about a third of a million and the country is perhaps best known for volcanic activity. The assumption was that ten days of close attention to Icelandic music would be a “deep dive.” Wrong! The ten days have passed, but there are plenty of unexplored areas.
The Indie music in Iceland covers all the genres, including reggae (Hjálmar and Ojba Rasta). There is a surprisingly strong post-rock representation. Similar to the other Nordic countries, electronic music is very popular (for example, Kiasmos). Of course, there are a number of singer/songwriters, including Ólöf Arnalds, who is scheduled to perform at San Francisco’s “Bimbo’s 365” on April 27, 2015. Ólöf is the cousin of Kiasmos’ Ólafur Arnalds.
B. The Format of the Post
Ten songs from Icelandic artists are embedded below. The goal was not to cover the range of music. The songs are our favorite discoveries from the last ten days. The format is:
1. Five Icelandic songs;
2. A video in which Icelanders are asked to disclose the song currently playing through their earbuds; and
3. Five more Icelandic songs.
1. The First Five Songs
Mammút is based in Reykjavík. The band began under the name ROK, an all-female trio. But the name was changed to Mammút with the addition of two male members. The vocals are provided by Katrína Kata Mogensen, while the instruments are played by Vilborg Ása Dýradóttir (bass), Alexandra Baldursdóttir (guitar), Arnar Pétursson (guitar), and Andri Bjartur Jakobsson (drums).
Last month singer/songwriter Máni Orrason released his debut single - “Fed All My Days.” He was born in Reykjavík on Christmas Eve, 1997, so he identifies himself as being an Icelandic performer despite spending much of his life in Spain. Some of the inflections in “Fed All My Life” remind us of Jake Bugg (we are hopeful that, unlike Bugg, Orrason brings a personality to his appearances).
There were a number of songs we considered from Ourlives. “Where Is the Way” was selected because of its contrast to the first two songs of this post. The beginning doesn't telegraph the guitar-driven Rock that the song becomes. More recent releases that could easily fit in this blog post include “Blissful Ignorance” and “Blurry Eyes.”
“Where Is the Way” by Ourlives (Currently, Ourlives is offering the song as a free download.)
Ásgeir is a singer/songwriter in what might be considered a hybrid genre. Admittedly, we are still becoming familiar with his music, but our assessment is that it often comprises almost equal parts of Pop, Folk and Electronica. In 2015, Ásgeir will be touring with the Irish “explosion” Hozier. If you don’t already have tickets, it is probably too late.
Not all Icelanders are from Reykjavík. Botnleðja identifies its hometown as Hafnarfjörður (six miles away). Their song “Slóði” starts as if the band is the country’s equivalent to Modest Mouse. It would be interesting to know if the lyrics are equally “off the wall.” The members are Haraldur Freyr Gíslason, Heiðar Örn Kristjánsson, and Ragnar Páll Steinsson
2. What Do Icelanders Play?
3. The Second Set of Five Songs
Starting the second set is a song that might be the personal favorite of many - “Color Decay” by Júníus Meyvant. The heavy use of a horn section distinguishes the song from others in this post. "Color Decay" was recently featured by Seattle’s KEXP, and is still available as a free download by visiting http://blog.kexp.org/2014/11/03/song-of-the-day-junius-meyvant-color-decay/.
Vök, a trio comprising Andri Már, Margrét Rán, and Ólafur Alexander. The picture they selected for use with “Tension” gives the impression that Vök is similar to South Africa’s Die Antwoord, but they are almost diametrically opposed. “Tension” is sultry and certainly not Rave Rap.
Enjoyment of the song “We Are Faster Than You” is more mood-dependent than other songs in this post. But when in the right mood, this song is a treat. It is Electronica from FM Belfast.
The free download of “Hamstra sjarma” is at the site of Seattle’s KEXP - http://blog.kexp.org/2014/11/06/song-of-the-day-prins-polo-hamstra-sjarma/
We received an email submission from St. Sleep. The email stated that the band is based in London, but has origins in Iceland. Since we have no reason to doubt that statement, they qualify for this post. Generously, they are allowing free downloads via the band's website or Bandcamp page (both of which are included below).