There will be two different Icelandic acts performing this weekend in Boston. On Saturday the 11th, Ólöf Arnalds will be at the Paradise Rock Club for the sold out Jose Gonzalez / Ólöf Arnalds gig, and GusGus will be performing at the Sinclair on Sunday the 12th. Two completely different genres of Icelandic music in one weekend.
Ólöf Arnalds has one of those voices that translates well over many different types of music. She’s a former member of múm and has collaborated with a good deal of the Icelandic musician populace while finding the time to release 3 of her own albums. This video is from her newest album, Palme:
Við og Við is the album that I was introduced to her by, and it’s a sweet traditional album of what I have always felt were folktales. Her newer albums have taken that sweet traditional style and incorporated unique beats and modern sounds creating an individual style of troubadour-ism, and she’s started to sing in English which is good for us poor souls that, try as we might, can’t seem to get the Icelandic language down. I’ve had the opportunity to see her a few times around Iceland and each time felt as if this was a personal gig for friends hanging out, as if she had just shown up with a guitar and wanted to play, catering to the atmosphere of the individual venue she was at.
She’s playing with another talented singer-songwriter named Jose Gonzalez. Of Argentinian descent, Jose was born and grew up in Sweden. There’s a great cross culture of pop, latin, and northern found in his songs.
Ólöf Arnalds comes from a diversely musical family. She’s the cousin of Ólafur Arnalds, and she’s the sister of Klara Arnalds of Boogie Trouble. And as you know, I am a massive fan of Boogie Trouble. Lucky you if you are going to the gig, it’s going to be a great way to spend a Saturday evening.
GusGus have been around for 20 years now and have 10 albums under their belt, 9 studio albums and one live. It’s an ever evolving beast that has been home for many musicians, including Emilíana Torrini, and Magnús Guðmundsson. It now consists of 3 members, Birgir Þórarinsson, Daniel Ágúst Haraldsson, and Högni Egilsson.
Their albums are all in the wide spectrum of electronic, sometimes moody but mostly energetic tracks that come across well both on album and live. Forever will always hold a special place in my collection, as during the time I lost 200lbs, Forever was one of the most frequently used albums as the beat just happened to run parallel to mine at the gym. While they do have a darker feel occasionally, there’s a high energetic wave-band that flows out of them.
I promise no one will be just standing around Sunday night. I’ve seen them play massive gigs with many people on stage in Iceland as well as dj sets in bar-like atmospheres with only a few of them, and they always put on a fantastic show.
It’s going to be a fantastic weekend of music around Beantown so I suggest you get up and out and do something. There has been a great deal more of Icelandic bands visiting our city, and I hope it continues as it’s been great seeing these folks off the island.
If you take your time and follow the advice they give you you’ll enjoy it, I certainly did. But if you rush through you will miss the big picture and it will be understandable why you only remember seeing creepy mannequins and hand written lyric notes (a summation of one reviewer.)
In the lobby of the MoMa sits a few of the instruments Björk created for Biophilia. Such as the gravity harp, midi-organ and gameleste/celeste combo. I was bummed the gravity harp wasn’t working, but the midi-organ was on auto play so that was cool. Iceland’s only pipe organ builder, Björgvin Tómasson, helped create these wonderful sounding instruments. As a side note, he is the father of Júlíus Óttar, a musician in one of my favorite bands of 2014, Var.
The exhibit is two parts spanning two floors. There is the audio tour, Songlines, that you have to get time reservations for, and the music video experience Black Lake, which is followed by a room you can relax in and watch Music videos from the Björk catalog. I highly suggest you get your timed reservations first, then go to the Black lake portion while you wait.
After getting our timed tickets we ventured off to wait in line for Black Lake. As you’re in line and look over, there is a multi-floor projection of the “Big-time sensuality” music video slowly playing on a massive wall which gives the impression of Björk watching over you as you enter her exhibit.
Black lake is in a cave-esque room with walls covered in sound insulating cones reminiscent of Volcanic rock. The only light is coming from two gigantic screens that face each other from opposite walls and there are over 45 speakers located on the ceiling and walls throughout the room. While waiting to begin, the screens display a message about the set up, and in big letters state that you should walk around, as the multiple channel set up means you will experience different parts of the song depending where you are in the room. I was shocked at how many people just stood still. I’m no audiophile, but the changing emphasis of the intricate parts of the song from different areas of the room really changed the feel of the song for me.
Once you leave the cave you move over to another room with a high ceiling and a massive screen showing Björk music videos. There are flowing fluid like couches that stretch out down the room, and it’s just a place you can rest and watch videos and be consumed by the large soundsystem and screen.
Songlines is the audio visual part of the tour. This is the part that requires the timed ticket, and you’ll appreciate the wait as without the timed stagger between entrants the tiny set of maze-like rooms you go through would be too packed to enjoy. You wear an iphone around your neck that they call your “heart”, and as you move from room to room it changes dialogue to that specific room.
In the introduction, they tell you to take your time, that the tour takes 40 minutes and that you should wait until each room’s audio is done before moving along. You’re free to move at your own pace but in this case, heed the advice and take your time. It’s the difference between a fantastic experience, and a blah one.
We live in a time where we seem to take a photo of what we are looking at before actually looking at it, and then move on to the next photo. We no longer take the time to consume what we are experiencing in the present, instead snapping a pic for later. If you run through this exhibit snapping selfies and photos of the lyric sheets and mannequins dressed in Björk clothing, you will miss the the best part, and you will never experience the full program. It is after all, called an audio tour through her 7 albums and history, not just an artifact hunt.
In one of the most minimal rooms in the exhibit (there are only two items) the walls have benches spanning each side of the room. You sit and relax with two red parenthesis-type red neon lights above you and you listen. There is an oddly loud bleed-through of the music video exhibit below, but you just rest, and listen to your “heart.” This room became my favorite part of the exhibit, and here’s why:
In the dialog from the “heart” around your neck, well past what you would hear if you just entered the room to look at the two items and left, you hear a beautiful account of the girl in the story’s realization of the child growing inside of her. In the story, the girl starts to hear, and realizes there is a new heartbeat inside her, the heartbeat of her daughter. And while you are listening to the story of her realization of her daughter’s heartbeat, through the “heart” around your neck, you can hear and feel the heartbeat of her music from below. It’s an all encompassing triumvirate of heart so to speak. It was really beautiful to me, and I left that room feeling really warm and fuzzy.
Now I don’t know if I’m stretching, and maybe it’s not what they intended, but I have to say I smirked and thought to myself, well played. And how fantastic to not start the room dialog with that but leave it for those who are actually listening and enjoying the exhibit. Once outside the exhibit I thought… Don’t be in such a rush, listen fully to your heart in good or bad times, and you’ll get the big picture.
So go to the exhibit, but don’t just go see it, go experience it. Take your shoes off and walk through the moss-fields barefoot. Don’t just snap photos, but think about what you’re hearing, seeing, and feeling. Live in the present for 45+ minutes, and it will all be worth it.
Endnote: This could very well be the most spiritualistic touchy-feely thing I’ve ever written or mentioned, and we can only hope my very spiritual touchy-feely mum who thinks I’m a stick in the mud doesn’t go into shock when she reads it.
As the digital format is now available globally, I wanted to repost my review, written almost a year ago to date.
It seems that when an artist matures they feel the need to leave their old style and branch out into the new. This can be discouraging to some listeners, and exciting for others. On Lay Low’s new album, Talking about the weather, the new, slightly more complex sound chooses to embrace the past and bring it along instead of dismissing it entirely. The more I listen to this album, the more I appreciate it, and it definitely is the best I’ve heard so far in 2014.
Lay Low, Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir, has been in the Icelandic music scene for almost a decade now. She’s in the famous Benny Crespo’s gang, and she has been putting out solo albums since 2006. Recently, she charmed the socks of the interwebs by doing a cozy live stream concert from the living room of her home. I’ve said before that she has an ability to make any size crowd feel at home, and even over the web she managed to make the listener feel as if they were hanging in her living room.
I’ve compared her previous albums to birth-children of June Carter and Nancy Sinatra. And they are all excellent lo-fi country-esq masterpieces. And while different than the others, the new album maintains the quality a Lay Low fan would expect. Each song is a single on it’s own, but is made greater with it’s accompanying album mates.
Talking about the weather starts out very classic, her voice strongly leading us into a familiar Lay Low guitar beat. But then the listener is quickly introduced to the new gang of instruments and complexities. The vocals become more full, with stronger backing, the perfect addition to her folk/guitar vibe creating this bluesy feeling. It’s the perfect introduction to the hybrid of styles the listener will hear the rest of the album.
Gently, has a very strong 90’s Cardigan feel, and just as the song speaks of rolling down the street, the song is so smooth one gets a sense of smoothly rolling along. In the dead of winter reminded me so much of 70’s Marianne Faithful that after finishing the Talking about the weather the first time I had to revisit my Faithful catalog.
Like laying on a tube floating down a gentle river beer in hand, sun above -the album rolls along peacefully. In One of those nights, she sings: “I try to keep my emotions from climbing up high, but there’s something in that song.” Whether she meant it as a metaphor for love, or pertaining to an actual song, it’s hard not to be taken over with a calm, happy emotion when listening to this album, each and every song.
Currently, the album is available from her website in CD or Vinyl format, and is now available in digital format all over the place. You can follow Lay Low on her facebook page, hear more of her stuff on Soundcloud.
The annual Taste of Iceland event is here March 12th through the 16th. This year there is a great dinner menu at Tavern Road , a community discussion between specialists in Reykjavik and Boston on future Innovations in energy and transportation, the Reykjavik calling concert, and an Icelandic film festival at Kendall Square Cinemas. You can make reservations, and learn about the entire event here.
Now let’s focus on the music. Reykjavik calling, an annual concert is once again at the Middle East Club in Cambridge March 14th, doors open at 8.
Iceland Naturally traditionally grabs a couple bands from Iceland, and a couple bands from the local scene, then tosses them together to collaborate and put on a show. These tend to be unique shows as the musicians really make it feel like a party. It’s a chance to discover new artists or new things about the artists you already like. Best of all, it’s free.
It’s recommended that you RSVP for the event via Eventbrite, but getting in is first come first serve. This event gets crowded, so from past experience I suggest you show up early as the lines build quickly and I’ve seen them wrap around the Middle East more often than not.
Kaleo began in 2012, and saw their S/T album hit number 1 in 2013. A pleasant blend of Bon Iver and Black keys.
Beebee and the Bluebirds is a jazzy rock band fronted by Brynhildur Oddsdóttir. She’s got one of those great soulful voices, and naturally entertains crowds.
Love in Stockholm is good old rock from Allston. Blending classic with modern, they have a local reputation for great live gigs, and have built a great following around the New England area.
George Knight and Pablo Palooza are rock/soul/funk locals. George, a DJ at WERS during the day, musician all the time perfectly compliments the Pablo Palooza players bringing a lot of energy wherever they play.
I asked a slightly altered version of my nonsensical questions. Beebee & the Bluebirds (BBB) Love in Stockholm (LiS) and Pablo Palooza (PaB) were kind enough to answer.
1. If you combine all of your favorite colors, what do you get?
- (BBB) Black striped violet red….
- (LiS) ROY G. BIV
- (PaB) Black
2. What are 3 of your favorite little known bands of Iceland/Boston origin?
- (BBB) –Dusty Miller –Erla Stefáns and the sinister trio –Smári Tarfur
- (LiS) Biscuits & Gravy, Sarah Blacker, and Turkuaz
- (PaB) Booty Vortex, The Chicken Slacks, and The Nephrok! Allstars
3. If you could be any creature playing your favorite song, what would the creature be? And what is the song?
- (BBB) I would be a black panther singing “Think”
- (LiS) A minotaur playing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
- (PaB) I would be an Eagle playing “I Am” by Earth Wind and Fire
Taste of Iceland is always a fantastic time, make sure to check some of it out. Check out more info on all the bands below, and we’ll see you there.
The Second set of bands for Iceland Airwaves have been announced. Another clever video with Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson drumming away as band names float across the screen.
First announcement was also clever, with Dj. Flugvél og Geimskip in a great video posted below:
As I did for 2014 and 2013, I will list all of the Icelandic bands playing, loosely divided into genres on this page. There are 23 Icelandic bands that have been announced so far, and I’ve started very loose categories below with links to their pages or Soundcloud pages.
These are just the Icelandic bands, if you want to see the full line-up go to the Iceland Airwaves Line-up page.
|Rock / Indie / Folk||Agent Fresco||Björk||John Grant and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra||Fufanu||Júníus Meyvant||M-Band||Sóley||Teitur Magnússon||Ylja|
|Electronic / Experimental / Dance / Electro-pop||Asonat||DJ Flugvél og Geimskip||GusGus||Hekla||Vök||Tonik Ensemble||Yagya||Young Karin|
|Hardcore / Metal / Hard Rock / Punk||Bubbi og Dimma||MAMMÚT||Muck||Pink Street Boys|
|Hip-hop / Reggae / Rap|
It’s never too early to get your tickets, and now that Björk is playing, I would suggest getting them earlier than later. And if you are planning on doing a package you’ll have more hotel options in the beginning. visit the Iceland Airwaves website for more info on all your options. And if you want to see what the past has been like, here is a link to all my Iceland Airwaves related posts. And here is the link to the Iceland Airwaves Flickr page if you want to see just how fun this festival really is.
Hope to see you there.
2014 ended shrouded in mystery as a new song seemed to appear out of thin air. A link to Gangly, “Fuck with someone else” appeared in one of the Grapeviner’s inbox, no description, no details, just a link to a Youtube video.
The vocals are smooth and haunting, backed by an intense but minimal Massive attack-esque beat which combined with the trippy animation makes for quite the haunting track. Sure it’s a bit NSFW but the overall composition is smooth and dark and you hardly realize what the the lyrics are going on about. It has become one of my favorite tracks of 2014, by the music alone.
In defense of my love for Icelandic music, I’ve been quoted as saying Icelanders make music fun. They are willing to try new things, laugh off the failures and embrace the things that they themselves dig the most. This has created an incredibly diverse musical island, and while it’s diverse, they tend to find a way to collaborate all that diversity into great sounding music.
This track is the personification of that theory. A few musicians getting together, having fun, and trying something out. Gangly is a collaboration of musicians that are quite successful by their own right, and they somehow got together and created this track just for the sake of creation. Talking with one of them, even the element of becoming a mystery wasn’t completely planned out, but they are going with it because it’s fun. This and the actual track definitely make it one of my favorite new songs of 2014.
It’s been decades since the last Snarl, and Dr. Gunni certainly exceeded expectations with this 4th edition. The compilation contains a broad assortment of what is coming up and is going around Iceland. It’s not just double rainbows, bowed guitars, elven harmonies or hair model horses. It’s everything from deep dark meaty punk to folk; trippy rock to dizzying funk. Its all encompassing with 25 great bands anyone that appreciates music will end up digging. What else would you expect from the author of one of my favorite history of Icelandic pop-rock books, Blue eyed pop.
You can listen and purchase the compilation here on Bandcamp. Either get a digital copy for $10, or an actual CD including a foldout cover with pictures of the band, and a long summation by Haukur S Magnússon of Grapevine. for $20. Here are just a few of what I feel are the lesser known bands you’ll find on the comp:
They were one of the favorite new bands of Airwaves, and justifiably so. Dirty, punkish rock that required one to take a shower after seeing them rock the shit out of wherever they played. I was looking forward to seeing them at Airwaves, and they didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
I’ve got a soft spot for this band, they really tore it up at Airwaves, and brought back nostalgic memories of Hole before the celebrity. Angry angry gals with heavy beats behind them. This isn’t the song on the album, but a good representation, and it was filmed in one of my favorite bars in Iceland, Bar 11, quite possibly by a drunk individual….not me.
The compilation isn’t just dark heavy punk and rock, Dj. flugvél og geimskip, the alter ego of Steinunn Eldflaug Harðardóttir is one of the sweetest beings out there, and her funky trippy manner is best witnessed live. Again not the song on the comp, but my favorite video of hers.
KVÖL is the new project of one of my favorite Icelandic artists, Þórir Georg. I first heard him when he was My Summer as a Salvation Soldier, and as he progressed through the years, so did his music, like a crazy river ever evolving, this new project has a fantastic gothic, Joy divisionist feel to it. You can actually hear a lot more from him on Soundcloud, and I suggest you do, He’s releasing an album that will combine his two EPs as well as some newer stuff soon.
These along with a lot of Icelandic favorites, such as Prins Póló, Just Another Snake Cult, Mugison, Grisalappalisa & Megas, Börn, Knife fights, and Sindri Eldon are all included, and honestly this post could go on forever. I highly suggest you go over to Bandcamp and give it a listen now. This comp has definitely earned it’s spot as one of my favorite releases of the year.