Published December 11, 2014
Like we noted in last year’s Straumur Xmas Special, the holidays can be hard on the ears for folks who have a modicum of taste for decent music. It’s a well-known fact that most Icelandic Christmas songs suck pretty hard, but of course there are always some exceptions. You can add the following to last year’s selection.
“Costa Del Jól”
This lost pearl of a Christmas song was released by indie band Skakkamanage (led by Svavar Pétur, the man behind Prins Póló) just before Christmas of 2005 and is named after one of Iceland most popular holiday destination, Costa Del Sol. It’s an unconventional beast that features an excellent, upbeat acoustic guitar melody. The lyrics serve as a Christmas greeting and an apology to friends and family, from a guy who has decided to spend the holidays in Costa Del Sol.
“Jólasveinar ganga um gólf”
The one and only Björk takes on a classic Icelandic Christmas lullaby, the oldest written documentation of which is from the early 19th century. The lyrics are about those famous Yule Lads who, according to this ditty, like to walk back and forth across the floor with canes in hand, while their mother sweeps said floor and spanks them with a rod. What an odd family.
“Er líða fer að jólum”
This is a true classic Icelandic Christmas song as performed by legendary crooner Ragnar Bjarnason. Ragnar premiered his version at state TV RÚV’s first and only New Year’s Eve Special in 1980. That Christmas, Icelandic actors were on strike, so it was the first time in the history of Icelandic television that there was no Áramótaskaup comedy revue on offer (more on that in the Grapevine’s Encyclopaedia of Icelandic Christmas). Instead, RÚV got local legend Hemmi Gunn to host a special that placed the focused on music and interviews. The song was written by Gunnar Þórðarson, with lyrics from Ómar Ragnarsson, and captures the spirit of Iceland in December perfectly. The darkness, the cold, the light and the music.
“Ég fæ jólagjöf”
Sigur Rós performed this Icelandic Christmas standard at Gaukur á Stöng in Reykjavík before Christmas of 1999. The song “Ég fæ jólagjöf” (“I’ll get a Christmas gift”) is an Icelandic take on “Feliz Navidad,” and was originally performed by child star Katla María in 1980. Sigur Rós make the song their own with a haunting delivery, slowing it down so much that it’s really hard to recognize if you don’t know the lyrics.
Reykjavík indie rockers Gang Related released this song before Christmas of 2011. The lyrics relay a tale about a guy who is telling Jesus—whom he refers to as Jesus Santa Claus—how much he loathes everything about the holidays and how surprised he is that he’s the only one. Making full use of their lo-fi 60s pop sound and armed with a grandiose melody and a hilarious lyrics, Gang Related deliver a Christmas song that definitely does not suck.
Straumur has been active since the summer of 2012, with writers Óli Dóri and Davíð Roach documenting the local music scene and helping people discover new music at straum.is. It is associated with the radio show Straumur on X977, which Óli Dóri hosts every Monday evening at 23:00.