Published January 24, 2014
Here at Reykjavík Grapevine we love little more than chit-chatting and shit-shooting about Icelandic music. There’s rarely a moment in the office when there isn’t some new album or other on the stereo, or playing in the headphones of the various people who bring you this fine paper as their keyboards rattle away.
We try to listen to most of the albums that come out, and review as many as possible to let you know about them. The Grapevine team, with some international reinforcements, cover every single show of the Iceland Airwaves Festival each year, and we send writers and photographers all around the country to document the myriad smaller events that make up Iceland’s thriving festival calendar.
So, it makes sense that we should celebrate the best music to come out of Iceland over the last year with The Reykjavík Grapevine music awards. It’s not like the Oscars or anything—there’s no red carpet ceremony (there is a kick ass party for the victors and their friends, though)—but each winner gets something nice, be it a meal in a fancy restaurant, a day-trip into the countryside, or a night in a nice hotel.
It’s our way of saying a little thank you in recognition of all the entertainment, inspiration and food for thought and conversation that musicians bring to the inhabitants of our chilly northern isle.
Just like last year, you should feel free to fret and disagree with our panel. You could even write us a letter telling us why (again: if it’s not an asshole letter, we promise to print it and everything).
Album of the Year: Sin Fang — Flowers
One of the most hotly contested categories for the music awards was, of course, best album. The year 2013 saw new releases from Sigur Rós and múm, an album each from musical relatives Ólöf and Ólafur Arnalds, and career-high LPs from homeland favourites like Mammút, Snorri Helgason, Lay Low and Bloodgroup. From the artistically-minded edges came a genre-bending record from avant-garde stalwarts Ghostigital and a dazzling mashed-up debut from DJ Flugvél og geimskip.
So, where to start? It’s a subjective matter pitting albums against each other, especially when they differ so widely in their processes, aesthetics and aims. The panel took many factors into account. Was this LP a real step up from the artist in question, or a brave creative leap? Did it push forward the album format as a whole, with a sense of artistic coherence stretching beyond the music itself? And did our winner seem like it could stand the test of time?
Of all the fine contenders, one stood head and shoulders above the rest in fulfilling arguably all of these criteria. “Sin Fang really stepped up his career with ‘Flowers,'” remarked our panel. Sindri Már’s interpretation of himself through this album comes from the artwork and visuals, performances and lyrics alike, forming a complete aesthetic. With this record Sin Fang becomes more of a cohesive package than ever. “Flowers” is a self-contained world, and an all-round pleasure to listen to, to own and hold, and to see played live—it’s like the iPad of albums.”
The production values, consistency, songwriting and all-around musical enjoyment factor all came into the equation.
“Flowers” was unanimously loved by our panel as a truly well-crafted album, and so it wins the Reykjavík Grapevine’s album of the year award.
As a thank you for making ALBUM OF THE YEAR, we teamed up with Hótel Búðir to get Sin Fang a free night of rest and relaxation at the wonderful retreat.
(Album of 2012: Hjaltalín—Enter IV)
Song of the Year: Sin Fang — Young Boys
With one of Iceland’s favourite radio DJs on our panel, we had a wealth of knowledge on hand about which Icelandic songs have proved enduringly popular over the last twelve months. So, after we had a list of initial nominations, he whipped up a Spotify playlist of the main contenders.
The year 2013 saw plenty of big Icelandic singles, with Sigur Rós, múm, Bloodgroup, Mammút, Prinspóló and Tilbury receiving mentions from our panel for “Brennisteinn,” “Toothwheels,” “Salt,” “Fall,” “TippTopp” and “Turbulence” respectively.
After listening through all the suggestions, the winner was undeniable. “Sin Fang’s “Young Boys” is just a beautifully written song,” said our panel. “It crossed a lot of borders and gained the project a whole new fan base.”
“It’s a strong pop song with an alternative edge in the sound that makes it interesting,” the panel further remarked, singling out the track for its memorable production.
“All those chopped-up vocals, micro-beats, jingling bells, and the textural layers make it very rich. But it’s still a really anthemic single—an all-round timeless, joyful song that never seems to get old. It is truly the song of the year 2013″
As a thank you for making the best song of 2013, we teamed up with the enduringly great Tapas Barinn to invite Sin Fang to a luxurious dinner party for eight at the restaurant.
(Song of 2012: Moses Hightower—Háa C)
Most Overlooked Album: Múm—“Smilewound”
The “Most Overlooked” category might seem like an invitation to shine a light onto a little-known band, but after discussing a variety of artists the panel decided it was one of Iceland’s longest-running collectives that had fallen under the radar in 2013.
“Múm’s new LP ‘Smilewound’ was barely covered in Iceland upon its release,” said the panel, with one member remarking: “I’ve barely heard an Icelandic person mention the album. I myself was ordered to listen to it by a friend, and I was very pleasantly surprised.”
The album was hailed as a welcome return to form. “They’ve found their feet again after a couple of hit and miss albums, which maybe explains the lack of excitement for this one in the press. But ‘Smilewound’ is a beautiful album with great arrangements and wonderful layered vocals. It’s a cohesive album, and surprisingly poppy for múm.”
The record was also lauded as a positive progression for the band. “They’ve allowed themselves to become more playful with the release. múm have always carried some poetry with them. Their warm sound is like a world of its own that you can vanish into.”
The band’s position as ambassador for the scene they came from was the final factor. “Múm for me are a quintessential Icelandic band,” remarked one panellist. “Their contribution to “the Icelandic way of doing things” has made its way into a whole new generation of musicians.”
“Smilewound” is one of those records that deserve to be heard by many more people. Go seek it out right now!
As a thank you for making a wonderful record in “Smilewound,” we teamed up with our two-time best goddamn restaurant SNAPS to invite múm to a luxurious dinner party for eight at the restaurant.
(Most overlooked album of 2012: Skúli Sverrisson and Óskar Guðjónsson—The Box Tree)
Go See Them Play Live As Soon As You Can Award: Grísalappalísa
With all the panellists having seen the very best Iceland has to offer at the Airwaves festival, there was no shortage of suggestions for the best live band. So, “shortlist” was a bit of a misnomer for the sprawling collection of candidates.
The panel’s particular highlights included Ólafur Arnalds’ Iceland Airwaves performance with the Reykjavík Symphony Orchestra, and the spectacle of the Gluteus Maximus stage show; Skálmöld won a lot of praise, and Mammút also took some plaudits for stepping up their live game.
But it was youthful energy won the day, with poet-punk rock ‘n’ roll band Grísalappalísa coming out on top in the final poll. “They were all anyone seemed to talk about in the summer,” remarked the panel. “They played a huge amount of shows and the whole scene was buzzing about it.”
Their indefatigable energy and visible commitment helped win them the award. “Grísalappalísa’s live performances this year have been electrifying,” the panel further remarked.
“People come out of their shows laughing with happiness and full of adrenalin, having just spontaneously broken out into air punching, chanting, crowd surfing… it’s really joyful stuff, and it reminds us of the heights that live rock ‘n’ roll music can hit.”
Indeed, Grísalappalísa is one of Reykjavík’s most invigorating live bands at the moment, the panel decreed. Go see them as soon as you can.
As a thank you for being such a great goddamn live band, we teamed up with musicians’ haven Tónastöðin to get Grísalappalísa a year’s supply of guitar strings. Use them well, guys!
(Live band of 2012: Gusgus)
Band To Watch: Samaris
The shortlist for the BAND TO WATCH category highlighted the stylistic breadth of the music emanating from Iceland over the last year. From the popular reggae band Ojba Rasta to the bracing metal of Kontinuum, and from the tireless electronica output of Futuregrapher, to up ‘n’ coming synth-pop trip Vök, to rappers Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir and Kolfinna Nikulásdóttir, the sheer breadth of new bands on display is a testament to the richness of the Icelandic scene.
In talking over all these bands and artists, the panel arrived at the conclusion that a key factor in this award should be professional as well as creative progress. And for all the hard-working, talented acts that came up in the conversation, that meant there could only really be one winner.
“Of all the new bands we talked about, none of them seem quite so poised for destruction as Samaris,” said our panel. “They’ve been creatively convincing since day one, but since signing with One Little Indian, their star is really rising. They’ve been working hard playing festivals and gigs around Europe, pricking up the ears of critics and fans alike—and all this before their first full album.”
Samaris have all the potential to be a world-conquering act, and now they have the support to go out and do it, too. Watch them closely.
As a thank you for being so great that we feel like we need to keep an extra close eye on them, we teamed up with Reykjavík’s fanciest new restaurant, Kopar, to invite Samaris to a luxurious dinner party for six at the restaurant.
(Band To Watch 2012: Muck)
The Band to Remember: Trabant
By Haukur S. Magnússon
During the debating process for the inaugural edition of Grapevine’s music awards, we decided that such an event—meant to celebrate the best of what’s currently happening along with the most promising newcomers—furthermore presented a great opportunity to look back and give our readers a reminder of where those people are coming from. A chance to honour some of the wonderful music of our past while instilling in our readers a sense of context and appreciation for how we got to where we are.
We decided to create some sort of ‘legacy award,’ honouring and celebrating greatness in our past. The BAND TO REMEMBER! category was born, urging everyone to remember some awesome band or musician and dig up their music and give it a spin.
After a bit of discussion (there are a lot of pretty great bands in our past), the panel reached the conclusion that it would be most appropriate to remember the wonderful TRABANT at this very moment in time. Trabant. Oh, Trabant.
At this point, a lot of you readers from the tourist contingent will be scratching your head wondering “wtf is a ‘Trabant’?” while locals and long-time fans of Icelandic music will have immediately started humming the chorus to some of Trabant’s enduring hits like “Nasty Boy” or “The One,” maybe reminiscing about what a wonderful time they had at Innipúkinn 2004, furiously grinding along to the music as Trabant’s frontman Ragnar Kjartansson hung from the rafters, shaking his tasselled manboobs while eating fireworks (yes, that’s celebrated visual artist Ragnar Kjartansson. One and the same, see page 24).
Trabant were formed in 2001 out of the ashes of post-rock garage heroes Kanada, coming together to play a fusion of electro, punk, R&B and pop. They immediately set themselves apart from other local musicians by, on one hand, maintaining a certain joie de vivre, virility and sense of humour in everything they did (everyone was all po-faced and serious following Sigur Rós’ success)—and on the other, being entirely unafraid to appeal to the masses, flirting with pop melodies and methods as they saw fit, which was very unusual in the underground scene they cut their teeth in.
They were truly a band that united the nation under one groove. Their singles simultaneously topped the hnakki (FM 957), rocker (Xið 977), MOR (Bylgjan) and “common Icelander” (Rás 2) charts. They headlined both the Eyjar (hnakki) and Innipúkinn (artsy-fartsy types) over the same weekend. They even performed at the President of Iceland’s house in Bessastaðir, the first and only “amplified” musicians to do so.
And they were pretty goddamn great while doing so.
Then, they just sort of faded away after releasing and touring the groundbreaking “Emotional” LP.
As the panel remarked:
“Trabant is possibly the most perfect pop band Iceland has produced. Melodic, glamorous and playful. They also made some visually stunning videos. It’s perhaps no wonder that the frontman has grown to become one of Iceland’s most successful visual artists.
They dared to be different when the world thought it had defined the Icelandic sound, a great live band that left us with sensational songs like “Nasty Boy” and “The One.” They are for sure a Band To Remember.”
At a time when social cohesion and unity is sorely lacking, we may need Trabant more than ever. Come back, Trabant! We miss you!
Matthías Már Magnússon
Matthías Már Magnússon is the host of the daily music show Poppland on Rás 2 for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. His show focuses on Icelandic music and new Icelandic bands, making him a perfectly positioned expert on Icelandic music, and an ideal judge for the second annual Reykjavík Grapevine Music Awards.
Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdóttir
Anna Hildur will be familiar to many as the former face of the Iceland Music Export, having since expanded her mission to head up the Nordic Music Export office (check out their cool new project, Nordic Playlist: www.nordicplaylist.com). Few people have more in-depth knowledge of the players and inner workings of the Icelandic scene than Anna.
John is a music writer for the Reykjavík Grapevine, as well being MD of the London/Reykjavík music agency Projekta where he manages bands, runs around Europe working on festivals and showcases, and works to publicise Icelandic musicians and independent music generally. He’s also a DJ with a monthly slot at Kaffibarinn, and an artist, poet and writer.
Our panel was adamant that the year 2013 had yielded an overabundance of wonderful Icelandic albums, and that it was kind of a bummer that we couldn’t honour more of them through awards and pats on the back and such. So we thought: why not make a shortlist of really great albums that we absolutely and strongly feel people should give a spin? So we did that. And it felt great. All of the records listed represent high points in the artists’ careers, some of the best work they’ve done, and should be sought out and contended with.
Without further ado, here’s Grapevine’s HEAR THIS NOW SHORTLIST:
Snorri Helgason—‘Autumn Skies’
Lay Low—‘Talking About The Weather’
Ólöf Arnalds—‘Sudden Elevation’
DJ Flugvél og geimskip—‘Glamúr í geimnum’
Mammút—‘Komdu til mín svarta systir’
Daníel Bjarnason—‘Over Light Earth’
Ruxpin—‘This Time We Go Together’