Music is like a soul. Like an intangible animate being. You cannot see or touch it directly. But it exists, it lives. In many languages, etymology of a word “soul” harks back to a breath, a gasp, a puff. “In the beginning was the Word…”, and the Word was the Sound.
Music, like a soul, is an element of life. Individual sounds phrase sonic codes and create a specific musical DNA strands or you can call it music, which has its own resonance. Particular sounds generate a specific musical DNA strand, in other words music, that possess its own individual timbre. Thanks to music, our distant memories, happenings, situations revisit our life. It happens also with images experienced a long time ago, which connote clear emotions and feelings. Music has the ability to move moves us in time and space, because when it comes to music, only one tense exists at one time so the past, the present and the future join in at this one point. The boundary between sleep and awake blurs as well as between realism and unrealism, the material and spiritual world, the physical and metaphysical world.
Music accompanies us often in some situations, experiences and emotions and it happens either in a direct way or only in our imagination. Consciously or not, music creates soundtracks of our lives, which later nest and grow deep into us. From time to time, they come to play even in the least expected moments. But it happens also that we come back to those soundtracks in order to remember, remind, refresh something that is inside us.
Music is a soul. In the beginning of the 20th century it was said that a presumable human’s soul weighs 21 grams. According to this theory I will portray a soul of my Icelandic soundtrack of 2013. It converges clearly with my experiences, memories and feelings.
Ólafur Arnalds – For Now I am Winter
Last year, this album left an imprint on my soul and heart. As it is wonderful, amazing and charming. An excellence. After each listening there is still a desire. Smooth and delicate vocal parts of Arnór harmonize perfectly with Ólafur music. I am impressed by the sensitivity of musicians and their skilful artistic craft. I have to admit that the result of their collaboration is remarkable. Music from “For Now I am Winter” divested me of any control or defense mechanism. A crystallinity of those sounds embarrasses me with its purity and intimacy. I feel like I abide with sacred things. Every note sounds perfect. I cannot listen to this album without tears in my eyes, with an emotion, a rapture, a beating heart. My feelings are snatched and ripped to shreds, then put and glued together. The album is kind of a psychotheraphy, each one composition is another therapy session. This release will always remind me of winter Icelandic landscapes. It’s because of my wedding and honeymoon, which was a trip around the island that lasted a few days. At that specific time, the album accompanied us. The path for two, a lot of adventures and interesting happenings. Our memories have been still incredibly clear and suffused with this album.
Sigur Rós – Kveikur
Sigur Rós was a band that have triggered my life with Icelandic music that is why I always set off with happiness to explore their sound in another new musical areas. The band opened my imagination and set free my soul. After those several years, their music has still given me chills of enjoyment. „Kveikur” is to me like an awakening, taking the first breath after a long time. Sigur Rós’ pulse of life is now more palpable, their heart beats harder and faster. Musicians disturbed the beauty by throwing it into chaos. The sound of „Kveikur” is on the one hand stronger, more stern, but on the other hand it contains also a shade of pop sensibility and lightness. The band catches me with its neurotic joy and vibrancy. I still feel deeply touched by their music. Sigur Rós once stole my heart and hasn’t wanted to give it back to me. I’m grateful for that. Personally, „Kveikur” is also a background for West Fjords of Iceland. It illustrates in a great way those sinuous and difficult roads, a wild backcountry, cliffs, mountain peaks, bays and waterfalls. An aborignalness. A freedom. A fierceness. It fills the lungs with fresh air and the mind with a new life.
Bloodgroup – Tracing Echoes
One of the most interesting electro synth pop groups of the past several years. A beautiful and tough electronic sound, which in this particular case has got its own real soul. In the background of uncanny and cool space, the band has prepared a musical feast for senses. A magic of sounds, colours and emotions. Bloodgroup proved they are masters at creating wonderful, heart-catching compositions. It’s an amazing combination of energy and power with lyricism and melody. Additionally, there are phenomenal vocals of Sunna and Janus. Moreover, the unique release show of Bloodgroup is to me an unforgettable memory of the energetic night in Reykjavík. I‘m enchanted by them.
Mammút – Komdu til mín svarta systir
It’s a pleasant surprise at the end of the year. The third album of Mammút is undoubtedly one of the most interesting releases of the last year. Their music has gained some elegance and has become more sophisiticated. It seems heavier and darker although it is served in a more subtle way. I appreciate this album for its mood and atmosphere. Listening to „Komdu til mín svarta systir” is like watching a good horror movie. It’s like being agog, waiting for something what is hiding in the shadow and will jump on us. Like projecting our own fears and concerns. Individual tracks create a unique musical story filled with emotions. That’s a great merit of all Mammút musicians and an electrifying vocal. The band offers a big dose of somnolent and uncanny beauty. Their music contains both power of calm and a hidden force of drama. The musicians paint spatial landscapes artfully. A singer, Kata, breaks through a dense tissue of tunes with her voice and completes this hypnotic sound landscape. Her singing seems often like it’s alienated and catches attention thanks to its claustrophobic and uncanny character.
Múm – Smilewound
Múm enchants us again with its sounds coming out of this world. Elvish vocals, barely heard voices and whispers float in their music again. It´s beautiful, gentle, surreal and fairy-tale. We move to a magical fairy-tale land, something like an Icelandic phantasy. The music seems to flow out of the musicians with ease and in a natural way in no hurry. It stimulates our imagination and senses. It entwines and wraps up us. Then, it wakes up our memory of a childhood. The album is full of sensitivity and sincerity, magic sounds of cello make those compositions one-off atmosphere. The use of silence and also various musical trifles and details seem to be an important element. The sound of Múm contains a cosmic constituent certainly. It’s hard to find things which that were poorly made on this album. Listening to „Smilewound” is a pleasure to me, every time.
Sin Fang – Flowers
I have perceived Sindri as a musician with an extraordinary sensitivity and imagination for many years. He is talented and has boldly experimented with tunes. He can create interesting visual arrangements, unusual melodies and build a unique sound and atmosphere. „Flowers” is filled with arm, smouldering euphoric sounds. A subtle electronic is embedded in a rich experimental sound mixed with an indie folk delicacy. It’s a freshness of spring, lightness and youthful jaunty with moments of reverie and a hint of melancholy and sentimentality. There is a multi-layered fuzzy fusion of sounds and dreamy melodies. Again, I was charmed with a warm, gentle and dreamy singing, complex vocal harmonies and pleasant melodies that don’t offend with a silky slush. In addition, Sindri wakes up my longing for Seabear.
Samaris – Samaris
A soft dark and dreamy trip-hop electronic, that combines elements of downtempo, post-dubstep, chill-out and trance, creates an intuitive musical skeleton. Unique magical sounds of the clarinet and the ethereal voice of the singer come around it and are the essence of Samaris music. The hallucinogenic sounds are a stimulus that activates the additional sense. Sensory impressions in this particular case allow us to capture events, which get a broader meaning and sense and also get deeper. Paranormal aesthetics of the sound allure and attract with its own ethnic cosmicalism. The debut album of Samaris is full of painfully beautiful, mysterious and uncanny music. The lyricism is maintained in a dreamy tone. It’s like a nocturne inspired by the mood of night. This music entwines with darkness and the whispering voice of Jófríður penetrates dimensions. An insanity. A madness. Loss of the senses. A kind of schizophrenia. A split effect.
Byrta – Byrta
It’s a new electronic project of Janus Rasmussen (Bloodgroup) and Guðrið Hansdóttir. Inspired by the music of the 80‘s and Scandinavian pop they kidnap the imagination of a listener and take it for a colourful and full of electronic intricacies journey. They should get a storm of applause for their ideas, performance and the quality of sound on the album as well as for its production. First of all, an excellent and spacious sound is a striking aspect. A first-class production causes that this music is vibrant. „Byrta” is a good musical structure as all parts work together without any discord. The intriguing combination of sophisticated electronic sounds and an original Janus‘ style undoubtedly enrich the unique voice of Guðrið. A great vocal lines sung in Faroese create a dreamlike atmosphere in a ingenious way. From dynamic compositions to narcotic sound collages. The duo made sure this album has got its own individual character, that contains a wistful nostalgia in addition to a warm melody.
Emilíana Torrini – Tookah
Emilíana has offered us a sublime music which is full of beautiful melodies and charming details that give the album an interesting depth. Gentle sounds of keyboard and synths are having an affair with a soft guitarline. We won´t find here any pomp nor unnecessary sounds. Sometimes, the artist allows herself to experiment with an electronic and dance for a moment. But more often it seems like she needs silence and understatement, that let us to notice the truth and a natural beauty. There´s an elegance and uniqueness hidden in this musical modesty. The sound of Emilíana’s music has some girlish charm but also a feminine sensuality. The music on Tookah is filled with a femininity, intimacy and a dream. This world is a fairy-tale reality which sways us with a warm atmosphere. I almost want to hug this music.
Tilbury – Northern Comfort
Tilbury with its music from „Northern Comfort” has taken me for a journey into the world of sounds creating an unconventional pastel tone. Similarly like in the case of many Iceland bands, the music is arranged in a spatial way, including a lightness and freshness. The team, using a wide palette of electronic, synth, folk and pop music has developed its individual and recognizable style. Musicians can charm a listener with delicate guitars, soothing analog synths sounds and adorable melodies. Every song on the album is marked by a melancholy catchiness, moreover, each of them has got a snappy melody line and an interesting arrangement. A deep, warm and distinctive voice of Þormóður causes that the album radiates with a carefree joyful atmosphere. There‘s a sophistication of vocal and instrumental solutions. This music hypnotize and disposes optimistically to life. On the one hand, a warm and dreamy sound breathes out with calm and refreshing, but on the other hand, it makes us emotional and causes to think more deeply about sentimental memories. A summer evening. A blissful and leisurely time.
Drangar – Drangar
Drangar contains one of three „rock pillars“ of Iceland. It‘s a collaboration of notable and experienced musicians: Mugison, Jónas Sig (the most famous of Jónas Sigurðsson og Ritvélar framtíðarinnar) and Ómar Guðjóns (Ómar Guðjónsson known from such bands like Jagúar, ADHD and Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band). Three friends met and decided to make music together. Without any rivalry, pressure or need to prove anyone anything. Musicians let their imagination run free and sailed unfettered like on a swollen wave. Music filtered through strong and decided personalities of each musician is a unified whole in the case of Drangar. Their music has a noble spirit. In addition, the gentlemen can sound fresh and originally. There is no point of assign classify this album to any genre. An asset of Icelandic musicians is perceiving music in a broader perspective, without a compartmentalization or splitting into genres or styles. Musicians are rich in ideas and do well not only with more dynamic compositions, but also with romantic ballads. Fortunately, the album is not overdone. Drangar charms with a diversity combining many styles and colours and, at the same time, it’s consistent. Beautiful harmonies. A wonderful atmosphere. This album has something that doesn’t let me stop listening to it. It crept into my heart and has put me in other state of consciousness. This is an excellent album that you will listen to in one breath. Moreover, it’s handmade.
Grísalappalísa – ALI
The first contact with this release confused me and bewildered. The album intrigues with its apparent chaos, excess of sounds, uncontrollableness and fierceness. However, each listening to the album has confirmed my belief: it’s musically valuable and musicians are talented, they are also ingenious and experienced. Grísalappalísa is an interesting phenomenon in the world of contemporary punk-rock, psychedelia and new wave. Although the band doesn’t limit itself it experiments boldly and plays with various styles. The concept of the album entitled Ali is based primarily on a stark and powerful rhythms of drums, an exposed bassline, complex structures of garage guitars and the tempting sound of a saxophone. Moreover, a way of singing makes the impression of an untamed and original wildness. An energetic and zestful sound of Grísalappalísa is pugnacious. It twines and drills into our minds. Who listens to the album carefully will find melodies that will wake up a hunger for more and more.
Lay Low – Let’s talk about weather
Lay Low impresses again with her voice, great compositions, nice melodies and snappy arrangements. A warm and velvety timbre of artist’s voice has a wistful charm, an ethereality and melancholy that intensify an intimate sound of her music. The sound of „Talking About the weather” is rich, juicy and sensual. Lay Low entrances with her focus and emotionality, charms with a delicacy and grace. It’s impossible to not mention about a live album entitled „Live at Home”, which was released also last year.
Ylja – Ylja
Album of this group impresses with an emotional beauty and referring to Icelandic folk music and Icelandic nature. Tasteful guitar riffs along with ‘sliding’ acoustic sounds, that Smári is mostly responsible for, accompanies sleepy, dreamy melodies and feminine voices of Gígja and Bjartery, which together sounds nicely as a harmony. Ylja reminds an unintrusive beauty and naturalness of acoustic guitar’s sounds with the band’s sound and way of playing. The specific guitar playing technique brings the music closer to the essence of blues. It’s a mix of folk, country, bluegrass style in which Ylja can be described. It enchants with an interesting melody while keeping a rustic simplicity. Singing in Icelandic adds a more unique taste and ethereal beauty to this music.
Snorri Helgason – Autumn skies
After „Winter Sun” it came time for „Autumn skies”. It’s even more beautiful. The Icelandic bard was supported again by well-known musicians like Mr. Silla (vocal and guitar), Magnús Tryggvason Elíassen on drums and Guðmundur Óskar Guðmundsson on bass. The music of Snorri glitters with an effusion of autumn colours and shades of golden fall. It illustrates sunny autumn mornings and sunsets. We leave the memory of the past summer behind. The artists seems to have a congenital ease for composing sophisticated acoustic ballads and unique melodies. In a fragmentary way, there are sounds of piano and mouth organ. It´s also nice to hear Mr. Silla. There are so many beautiful melodies here, so many magical dreamy songs and the well-thought-out and performed music that is kept in a warm alt-country and indie folk style.
Kristján Hrannar – Anno 2013
A former member of the band called 1860 released finally his debut solo album. „Anno 2013“ contains atmospheric, special and interesting music. It‘s based mostly on a skilful combination of piano tones and elements of acoustic music, folk, jazz, pop and warm electronic. Numerous subtle electronic pieces give the album a depth and plasticity. An important role is played by the Kristján’s soothing voice that calms our shivering hearts. Sunna Þórisdóttir (Bloodgroup) sings as a guest in one song on the album. There’s a visible (or rather hearable) care of the timbre and mood on the solo album of Kristján. The sound is refined in every tiny detail so it delights. That‘s a big production‘s merit – the producer is Janus Rasmussen (Bloodgroup), the undisputed prince of synthesizers and electronic music. Analysing the past year, I have noticed that Janus appears as a musical King Midas – whatever he touches turns into a gold. Thanks to „Anno 2013“ the saying „a good production helps good compositions“ was proved.
Jóhann Kristinsson – Headphones
The album seems to be very personal and authentic. It is full of artist‘s passion. Additionally, it was recorded in the basement and in the 16th century castle and it all had an impact on the unique atmosphere and mood of the album. A fervid and little bit whiny vocal of Jóhann encourages to enter into this specific world. He doesn‘t cry out his pain and suffering, he rather almost whispers them and only from time to time accentuates them more clearly. At times, he build a tension which breaks in chorus, other time he creates an atmosphere of silence while singing directly to a listener. There is a melancholic lyrical mood, minimal means and Jóhann‘s voice that sounds like a poignant echo from the inside of the miserable and suffering person. Jóhann sings and composes as if he wants to cry out his soul with silence and peace. It‘s like an immersion in sadness and loneliness. A feeling of rejection and a lack of understanding by other person. An introverted escape into yourself. The album enchants with its huge sensitivity and nostalgy.
Ólöf Arnalds – Sudden elevation
The album involves with an enormous power in a sophisticated world filled with an intimacy and a feminine emotionality and over time experiences are getting more intensive. It’s a perfect combination of the melancholic alienation and feminine emotionality. Dreamy melodies progress slowly and are lyrically led by acoustic sounds of guitars and a piano. An intimate space fills up with oneirism and ethereality. The characteristic girlish soft and innocent voice of Ólöf enchants and mesmerises with a magnetic force. I have the impression that she sings with her entire soul. The wonderful, phenomenal and deeply poignant album.
Hallur Ingólfsson – Öræfi
„Öræfi“ is an instrumental album that is very intent and primarily masculine. It consists without any solos, excess or pomp. It captivates and moves with its austerity, simplicity and naturalness. In this particular case the saying „sometimes less is more” is confirmed. This is a reflective road of music and guitars, drums and sounds of a piano that builds up an emotional and nostalgic atmosphere in no hurry. Hallur takes us for a journey around wilderness. It´s like an escape for a while from the materialism, consumerism and rush of the modern world. In this music you can hear a soul that longs for a nature and freedom. Music illustrates the dramatic beauty of the magnificent Icelandic nature. It contemplates the landscape. A wilderness of nature is beautiful and intoxicating. The author wants to encourage a listener to reflection on society in the background of the album. He points out that humans pose the biggest threat to nature. With the use of music not only he expresses an experienced sense of loss, but also an impendence and concerns about further future of the Icelandic nature. However, this music contains also some kind of hope. The whole sounds really peculiar. Our warm acclaim for Hallur who released not only his solo record the previous year, but also an interesting album with band Skepna.
1860 – Artificial daylight
There are albums that we appreciate not only for songs, but also a mood and emotions they give while listening to. Similarly, in the case of “Artificial daylight” which is a bright indie folk light and a warm flame that warms up during long winter evenings. Musicians take an inspiration from a wide range of different music genres and combines them in their own special style. Excellent compositions that base on an acoustic sound are refined in arrangement and production way. In addition, melodies, that are a bit like of The Beatles, and tunes of mandolin bring the unique sound and some lightness to their music. A force of 1860 is enchanted in details as well as male vocal harmonies. It absorbs a listener and doesn’t allow him to get rid of the album. Just turn down the light so you could appreciate entire charm and lucidity of “Artificial daylight”.
Hymnalaya – Hymns
This debut album brings soothing music into aggresive times. Contrarily, it can be said that this music hits with its delicacy and transfix with serenity. On the one hand, the album is rich in acoustic guitars, the winds, strings and keyboards. On the other hand, the sound of Hymnalaya is mild. There are soft compositions bundled up in lo-fi folk blear. Oozing sounds are a bit stifled and muted. They are overmodest like a dab or a glimpse. Such characterstic and gentle voice of Einar completes the whole. Seemingly, inspirations for musicians were old hymns and ethnic religions. It is not hard to believe in this while listening to their reflective and clever milled „inspired“ music.
I would like to thank all of mentioned artists for their albums and music. You have created my soundtrack of 2013 which I will always carry inside me. This is my Icelandic soul.
Postscript. Apart from albums mentioned above, the year 2013 provided me with a lot of interesting and wonderful Icelandic music that we will return to.