A lot of great albums were released this year and the best one, in our humble opinion, came early in February: Sin Fang’s third album, ‘Flowers.’ With this one, Sindri Már Sigfússon has mastered his widescreen indie pop sensibilities and Alex Somers’s colourful production pushes the material into a realm of greatness. Icelandic electropop legends múm also astounded us with their set at the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival and followed it up later in the summer with one of the year’s best albums, ‘Smilewound.’
This spring also saw the emergence of the best new band of the year, Grísalappalísa, whose energetic postpunk and Icelandic lyrics with a raw poetic edge resulted in ‘Ali,’ one of the better debut albums to come out of Iceland in quite some time.
Other noteworthy albums to be released were ‘Cupid Makes a Fool of Me’ by the lo-fi psychedelic band Just Another Snake Cult, Mammút’s long awaited third LP ‘Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir,’ ‘Cellf’ by hip-hop legend Cell 7, ‘This Time We Go Together’ by Ambient maestro Ruxpin and the wonderful country-injected folk-pop of Snorri Helgason on ‘Autumn Skies.’
One of the most catchy múm songs to date, “Candlestick,” was our favourite song of the year over. The song begins with Nintendo-ish synths that set the tone for what follows. “What’s wrong with your eyes” by Sin Fang with its beautiful melody was our second favourite. And “É Bisst Afsökunnar” by Markus & The Diversion Sessions, was our third favourite. The song sounds a bit like if Icelandic legend Megas were fronting Pavement. The catchy and hard rocking “Hver er ég?” by Grísalappalísa came in fourth and the futuristic/cartoonish “We Are Faster Than You” by FM Belfast was fifth.
Courtesy of the crash and currency problems, Reykjavík had a shortage of concerts with big international acts for a few years, but this year quite a few big international stars headed our way. Disco-virtuoso Nile Rodgers, R&B superstar Frank Ocean, Dionne Warwick, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Kraftwerk, James Blake and Squarepusher all visited our shores and played concerts. Our favourites were Daniel Johnston’s intimate performance at Fríkirkjan and David Byrne and St. Vincent’s artful brass pop at Háskólabíó.
The biggest music-related news this year was the coming of two large international music festivals: Sónar and All Tomorrow’s Parties. Sónar, which emphasises contemporary electronic music and progressive visuals, was held in Harpa in February, and was a great success with highlights being Squarepusher, James Blake and Diamond Version. In its unique setting at the former Nato Base at Ásbrú, All Tomorrow’s Parties was also a very rewarding experience with great performances by the likes of Nick Cave, The Oh Sees and múm. Both of these festivals will be held again in 2014, with Major Lazer headlining Sónar and Portishead and Interpol scheduled to play All Tomorrow’s Parties in July.
Speaking of festivals, we also have to mention the 15th Iceland Airwaves festival, which was exceptionally well organised and brought a roster of fine international and domestic acts together for a five day music feast at the end of October.
August saw famed concert venue Faktorý (former Grand Rokk) close down with an epic performance by Gus Gus. It will be sorely missed: many of Iceland’s biggest bands took their first step towards the limelight in its low-ceilinged upper floor on Smiðjustígur. Faktorý’s closing was a big blow after NASA closed last year, but new venues have opened to fill the void: Harlem at the beginning of the year and Brikk and Paloma at the end of it.
Also in August, our website, straum.is, had its first birthday and to celebrate we held a free concert at Harlem Bar with Útidúr and Just Another Snake Cult performing. Here’s to another great year!
Straum.is has been active since last summer, with writers Óli Dóri and Davíð Roach documenting the local music scene and helping people discover the best new music. It is associated with the radio show Straumur on X977, which airs every Monday evening at 23:00.