AMIINA ------ the amiina website here.
AMPOP ------ the ampop website here.
I am sure I have heard this tune on The O.C. or One Tree Hill -- I have heard it without even realising it was an Icelandic song. Icelandic music has that kind of international appeal -- it is transnational. In a way I kind of envy Icelanders for their geographic position -- since they are right in the middle of the Atlantic they can pass themselves off as both Europeans and Americans, whatever the need of the moment dictates. Anyway, Ampop is signed with Bad Taste Records I believe, Bjork's label.
BJORK ------ the bjork website here.
I have to confess I probably wouldn't be into Iceland if it wasn't for Bjork. Even more interestingly, I probably wouldn't have made my two trips to distant Reykjavik, if it wasn't for a little segment presented by Molly Meldrum on Hey Hey It's Saturday one suburban Australin night, back in Kiama.
It is interesting to think how the way I listen to Bjork has changed over the years. In the mid 1990s, trapped in a shitty life in Sydney, and divorced from my travelling dreams, I found my escapism in drugs and New Age spirituality. Such was the zeitgeist of the time, everyone was into New Age thinking at the time, to some degree. Bjork included: "I'm no fucking Buddhist, but this is Englightenment." Listening to Bjork was like listening to my Higher Self, and I shared her frustrations with "the cowards... (who) can't handle love". With her lyrics about the "luminous beam, it feeds you... with a lazor blade, I will cut a slit open / and the luminous beam / it heals you, it heals you honey". I could not yet smell the North Atlantic salt in the strings, or hear the fjordy accordiums in the synthe. It was just all about spiritual emergency.
DIKTA ------ the dikta website here.
Dikta is proof that there is more to Icelandic music than the ambient postrock sound of Sigur Ros and Bjork. Just as Iceland can do dark and dirty (Gus Gus), it can also do college pop. At first listen I was surprised that this was even an Icelandic band, they sound so American (with vocals in English to boot.) Little by little it dawned on me that Dikta came from the freeway radio drive school of Icelandic rock (the same as Sensei whom I used to like). If you listen hard you can even pick up the dead giveaway signs of the Icelandic sound, such as the little collages of ambient sound and feedback at the end of each song, and the often gloomy lyrics. That said, Dikta have a distinctly bright sound, and some of their songs would not be out of place as backing music on current American teen dramas (for example The O.C). There is obviously a conspiracy theorist somewhere in the band though....
Someone, Somewhere: I love these lyrics:
Someone was made for you.
Someone, somewhere, someone, somewhere
Someone believes in you.
But maybe they're dead... (You are your own saviour!)
Maybe they're dead... (You are your own saviour!)
Maybe they're dead... (You are your own saviour!)
GJOLL -- .
This outfit sounds like a slowed down Nine Inch Nails. Nordic industrial sound. Not quite Rage Against the Machine, more like brooding Viking angst boilbubbling under a bleak whitegrey sky. Once again, geography and geology and mythology are merged in this Icelandic band. According to Wikipedia: "In Norse mythology, Gjöll (Old Norse meaning "resounding") is one of the eleven rivers traditionally associated with the Élivágar, according to Gylfaginning, originating from the wellspring Hvergelmir in Niflheim, flowing through Ginnungagap, and thence into the worlds of existence. In Hel, Gjöll is the river that flows closest to the gate of the underworld and is spanned by the bridge Gjallarbrú, which was crossed by Hermód during his quest to retrieve Baldr from the land of the dead. It parallels similar mythological rivers from Indo-European cultures like the Greek Styx. The river is said to be freezing cold and have knives flowing through it..."
HELLVAR ------ official blogspot here.
I really love this band's song Stop That Noise. It is the kind of song which motivates me to travel halfway around the world every three to four years, and go partying in Rrrrreykjavik! For starters, the female lead singer sounds like Bjork, the diva who introduced me to Icelandic music (granted, nobody is ever going to sound exactly like Bjork -- she was one in a million!) Moreover, the electronic percussion has echoes of drum'n'bass, which I got into in my South London days. If I could mix I would throw on a more menacing bassline and flesh out the breakbeat, and this tune could be the perfect blend of Norse wail... and English street swagger!
HRAUN ------ the hraun website here.
JONSI ------ jonsi website here.
The one Icelandic band I have actually met and interacted with, in a fleeting way at least, Kimono comprises ALEX (guitar/vocals), DORI (bass), GYLFI (guitar), and KJARTAN (drums). I believe Alex was the guy I met in The Sirkus in Reykjavik in mid 2006. It was a meeting which, eerily enough, I had previewed in a dream some 12 months before. We talked about commodity culture and the destruction of the Icelandic environment, while the sun streamed in through the windows, and World Cup soccer played on the telly, and little blond kids played with puffin backed trump cards downstairs. Every time someone slammed shut a door the whole building shook. It was in fact, just another lazy Saturday afternoon in Reykjavik in the summer... World Cup mania notwithstanding. Alex seemed surprised I knew of Kimono and had actually heard and even blogged about their song Japanese Policeman in Scandinavia. It had been my favorite song, for a day or two at least, no more than a week but then again there is so much music in the world, how can you have your favorites???
On their website the bandmembers write: "KIMONO can be said to play in the tradition of such rock bands as Television, Neu! and Polvo, but their personal influences range from Krautrock to indie math rock to punk rock, particularly when it's played by Neil Young, Slayer, John Bonham and especially when it's not. People may experience anything from fervent thrills to severe trauma at a KIMONO show due to Gylfi's high energy aerobic dancing. They have reached the point in their career where no one really knows who they are, but anonymous strangers sometimes send them gifts in the mail.
"KIMONO comes from an underground music scene that is full of energetic bands struggling to save the world from maleficent culture vampires hell-bent on force-feeding us reconstituted pap. KIMONO will accept large amounts of cash in return for keeping their mouths shut about what they know about your unknown pleasures.
"Anyone interested in contacting KIMONO should do so directly at [firstname.lastname@example.org] and not through Bad Taste, because THEY NEVER ANSWER THEIR FUCKING PHONES."
KIPPI KANINUS ------the kippi kaninus website here.
Finally We Are No One by Múm: Click picture to purchase
FINDING A GOOD NAME for something -- or someone -- is always the hardest thing. To sum up the spirit of a work of art with a short name takes real skill, and I always admire those who are able to do it. Recently I purchased a copy of the CD "Finally We Are No One", by Mum -- my first introduction to the Icelandic band. Within just a short time of listening I was overwhelmed by the strangest feeling (admittedly I had drunk a particularly strong batch of ginseng juice from the neighbourhood Korean shop, and was under its smart drug spell.) But anyway, the feeling was real, and in an abstract, intuitive way, I could understand what this rather strange title actually means. Finally We Are No One. Finally, after so much trying, we can annihilate ourselves -- we can annihilate the ego -- in a burst of Zenlike joy. The ecstasy of dissolving oneself. That is what this CD is about. Yoda or Buddha might have said that deep down, "we are all one", but Mum take things even further, state things even truer -- in truth we are not even "one", we are no one. And this is a magnificent realisation to reach -- the state the Japanese call "satori".
According to Mark Richard-san's review at pitchfork media, Mum's sound lacks a "sense of struggle". "They're almost too good at making simple, pretty music at this point, and the tracks content to pursue these qualities alone come across as fluffy. With the digital aspect of the sound played down in favor of uncomplicated acoustic melodies, Mum seems just a bit less substantial," he concludes. But I think Richard-san is missing something -- there is a sense of struggle in this work, it is just a kind of struggle he doesn't understand. There is a tension here, but is the tension of disappearance, dissolution -- the heroic journey towards self-annullment. You can hear it in the song "Green Grass of Tunnel" in which the narrator rises up through the ground towards what? -- Nirvana no doubt! The direction of this album is always up...
(for more about Múm, read here.
Iceland has its knack of throwing up strange and eccentric bands -- how eccentric is this, a band composed of 15-year-old schoolgirls? SÓLEY
And then I cut the feathers off and I made myself a beautiful dress...
LIKE THEIR COUNTRYFELLOWS BJORK AND THE BAND MÚM, SIGUR RÓS HAVE A KNACK OF CONSTRUCTING EPIC MASTERPIECES OUT OF THE MINIATURE OF EVERYDAY LIFE. Their seminal track Ágætis Byrjun for example, from the album of the same name, brims with a cauldron of lethal emotions, and overflows with bigger-than-life sensualities. Translate the lyrics of this song into English, however, and what you find is the humdrum tale of a couple having a date in a cafe. Even the title of this song, which sounds so sublime to non-Icelandic speakers, loses all of its mystique when you know what it means: that's right, Ágætis Byrjun means "An Okay Beginning" in English. There is something peculiarly Icelandic and Scandinavian in this ability to glorify the mundanest aspects of life, and turn the mundanest life into a Greek epic. It is not surprising that Iceland is a country infused with an epic take on life, and has been ever since its inception about 10 centuries ago. GorillaVsBear said: "As promised, here's the gorgeous new Sigur Ros single with the bad name, taken from their upcoming Með suð i eyrum við spilum endalaust LP. Driving tribal rhythms, pastoral acoustic guitar, + Jonsi and crew's floating, ethereal melodies all lend "Gobbledigook" an almost childlike sense of innocence and wonder. Get your Sung Tongs comparisons ready:
... "Can't a band make a song with droning acoustic guitars, tribal sounding drums and echoey cherubic mish-mash vocals and not get a ton of Animal Collective comparisons?"
"Iceland has a tendency to keep shedding artists that go beyond the limits of normal thought. The music cannot be categorized. It touches a deeper part in one's soul. This list was made because I've had trouble identifying the music I listen to. It undefinable. It's everyting and nothing...
"The band I cherish most of any groups is Sigur Rós. Without their music, I wouldn't have known or felt so many unexplainable things. I suggest, more than any album on the face of the earth, for those who wish to hear sounds that will touch and evoke emotions that become immediately precous, is the album ( ). This cd accompanied me through many walks to the edges of the forest. It gives an idea of a place where time doesn't exist, and where language doesn't matter. It is utterly beautiful." (Source: Amazon.
STAFRAENN HAKON ------ Stafrænn Hákon official website here.
Writes Iceland Airwaves: "Once described as "frequently mesmerizing, seamlessly interwoven combination of electronica and ambient guitar" by the legendary Wire magazine. Stafrænn Hákon has indeed through the last 6 years been described as a mix of post-rock, lo-fi, ambient guitar & electronica. The Icelandic born Olafur Josephsson has been recording music since 1999 under the name Stafrænn Hákon (sometimes stafraenn hakon, stafrann hakon) which has often confused the media, due to the confusing Icelandic origin.
"The more acoustic alive sound on the album can be clearly heard when Birgir Hilmarsson of Blindfold and Ampop plays the last notes on the harmonium as he stands up and exits the studio in the closing track VeggurE The climax of the song comes with Birgir singing harmony vocals over the enormous guitar layers and crunchy drums from Daniel Lovegrove (aka Dialect).
"Samúel White a long time collaborator and vital part of the Stafrænn Hákon project is delivering one of his most elaborative works with his beautiful picked guitar parts. In the intense melody of HausiESamúel´s guitar is sounding huge with vocals contributed from Minco Eggersman. P-rofiEcollaboration with the Danish based Efterklang ties the album together with the advanced sonic structure and subtle use of instruments. When Ólafur enters Daniel´s studio to complete the album with additional production, he knows this album is going to be the most complete and solid record he has ever done..."
See new video P-rofi on YouTube. This is song number 3 from Stafrænn's latest album Gummi, featuring guests from Efterklang
See a video of Stafrænn playing Iodine live in the Leeds Brudnell Social Club 2004.
Upon listening to the YouTube recording in March 2008, I wrote: "A characteristic Icelandic primordial pulse... spiky edged crystalline guitar feedback ever surging to new highs, like a geysir or a volcano. I believe the land informs the music of a people. Hence the often jagged, molten euphoria of Stafraenn Hakon. There is something akin to Sigur Ros in the way this music surges and builds, expands and erupts..."
Download plenty of free mp3s of Stafrænn Hákon here.
Unlike some of the bands to be featured on this website, Ulpa does indeed have a record deal, and have built up a fan base. According to the StarPolish website, Ulpa is a "a hard-working foursome that serves up a healthy dose of guitar-driven indie rock that somehow manages to mix in elements of their many influences -- everything from heavy metal to theatrical-style ballads -- while keeping it all honest and, more importantly, unique and interesting". I agree with that, and I will add that among Ulpa's influences, I can discern an interest -- which I share -- with the Norwegian 80s band Aha. In fact, it was Aha which got me interested in Scandinavia and Iceland to begin with (or maybe I was there in a past life). Up until recently, on their website you can listen to a beautiful song featuring Aha's former lead singer Morten Harket (or maybe it is just a joke, someone pretending to be Harket!) -- "Mokkadur Madkur", a haunting, slightly bluesy account of a failed relationship, with the vocies of the two male vocalists mixing together sublimely, Harket (or the Harket impersonator) a little on the grizzly side. The song is at once folsky and rustic but shining with the electricity of the Aha of the early 80s, when the band dazzled the world with its cold Nordic pop. The lyrics in this song are also pure Harkett, once again demonstrating the Norwegian's uncanny ability to bring out the etheral in the mundane.
Not only is Ulpa obviously infleunced by Aha's frontman, but its lead vocalist Magnus Leifur Sveinsson can sometimes sound like him. On their perhaps most famous song to date, "Dinzl", Sveinsson manages to recall the soaring angelic vocals of early Aha. The song itself is a driving, icy, killer track -- Icelandic to its core, evocative of life in that gloomy and jagged and crystalline land, Sveinsson's athletic voice rising like a ghost above the hard-eged guitar...
On their website Ulpa describe their sound as "space guitar driven Indie rock from the top drawer, that is influenced by everything, but still sounds like nothing you've ever heard before." I agree with that assessment, and can discern something of a David Bowie influence in their track "Attempted Flight". The website continues to say: "When the debut album Mea Culpa was released in Iceland in the fall of 2001, Ulpa had already become a house-hold name in the music scene and shared stage with artists such as Stephen Malkmus, Blonde Redhead, Trans Am and The Fucking Champs. A limited edition single that preceded the full-length album was also a shock hit and was aired quite often on Icelandic radio in the following weeks. The album, recorded by Valgeir Sigursson (best known for his work with Bjork) didn't disappoint, although some had probably hoped it would be more mainstream. It took some time for it to sink in and, instead of fading away, it just became better and better to the listener-a true measure of a good album. They are now working on their second album which is in the final stages of completion."
I can hardly wait until the album comes out, and provide a review here.
WHOOL ------whool soundcloud page here.