Deliberating over the Grapevine’s Music Awards is a difficult process—for every winner that we hand a medal to, there are countless others who were also jockeying for position and did great things well deserving of your attention. With that in mind, we asked our music team for their own personal picks from this excellent year in Icelandic music.
I love it when something that I’ve written about crosses over into my personal record collection and there were several albums this year that did exactly that. The most-played of the bunch was the excellent ‘Light Is Liquid’ by múm founding member Örvar Smárason. It’s a finely hewn, down-tempo pop album with a bright, fresh feel; the nicely crafted songs contain earworm melodies, but also a lot of space that lets them breathe. Robotic voices nestle alongside contributions from rising vocalist sillus and established stars sóley and JFDR, and the record charts a lyrically introspective course through everything from love—or the lack thereof—to self-worth, and dealing with the craziness of the Trump-era global consciousness. It snuck out this summer when Örvar was busily touring ‘Team Dreams,’ and deserves much more attention.
I was also blown away by a couple of singles by Solveig Matthildur, whose gloomy electronic pop seems to go from strength to strength. Her single ‘Affliction/Absolution’ (only available on Bandcamp) is that spine-tingling kind of stunning; her first English-language track ‘Dystopian Boy’ opens the lyrics up to the English-speaking audience.
I was also smitten with GYDA’s ‘Evolution,’ which vibrates with a rare, luminous, soulful sensitivity; aYia’s debut had enough moments of magic to ensure repeat listens; finally, Ólafur Arnalds’ gently amazing ‘re:member’ got a lot of Sunday-morning spins throughout the year.
There were three albums that pleasantly took me by surprise this year, all of which I’ve listened to relentlessly since they were released. They’re all very different in style, but all have one thing in common: some unique individual artistic breakout. First on the list is the surprise hip-hop album ‘Hasarlífstíll’ by Arnar Úlfur, better known as half of the hip hop duo Úlfur Úlfur. Hasarlífstíll is Arnar’s first solo album, and it has a raw, real and retro feeling to it—some back-to-basics elements that the Icelandic hip-hop scene really needs. It also exposed a new dimension of Arnar as a musician. I’m looking forward for something more.
Another breakout this year was SiGRÚN with her amazing debut ‘Onælan.’ SiGRÚN gained a lot of experience touring the world with Björk, Sigur Rós and Florence + The Machine as a part of a brass band. It’s safe to say that she learned a lot. Although the Onælan album is unique, you can clearly hear her influences. But it was the strong songwriting that convinced me that this is something promising. It’s one of the best albums of 2018. The final album got a bit buried in the Christmas madness—Hermigervill’s long-awaited ‘II.’ This album is everything you can ask for when it comes to solid electro music. He even throws in some old school Roland TB bass sounds to satisfy the 90s electro nerds. The album is playful, melodic and humorous. It’s a good step forward for Hermigervill and I hope he’ll travel further on this track.
Hannah Jane Cohen
I was introduced to the work of Daníel Bjarnason only whilst writing a feature about him and his opera ‘Brothers’ earlier this year. Not a modern opera lover, I was hesitant, at first, but I’ve since fallen head and soul in love with everything Daníel has done. His newest effort, ‘Collider,’ is a particular favourite. The album is—as you’d expect for the composer—super dramatic. That said, it’s also weirdly danceable, especially if you’re the type that, like me, likes to put on tunes so they can dive headfirst into fantastical daydreams while vacuuming. Daníel’s tunes makes me feel like I’m the star of some dark ballet, which was, to be blunt, a childhood dream of mine. The choral parts on ‘The Isle Is Full Of Noises: I. O, I Have Suffered’ are particularly good to emote to.
Outside of the classical genre, I got super into the Sisters Of Mercy-esque vibes of Port, a group that has unfortunately flown massively under the radar. Their album, ‘Night Music,’ which came out in September, was the perfect soundtrack for my reformed goth life. It’s rare that a band can authentically capture that old goth vibe, but they did (and I’m pretty sure they even used a drum machine.) Other than that, Ólafur Arnalds earned many Spotify plays from me, as did Dadykewl’s smooth hip-hop and Great Grief’s recent hardcore/rock debut. Overall, it’s been an eclectic year for Icelandic music. But really—here’s hoping this year’s Eurovision song is better than the shitshow of last year!
Phil Uwe Widiger
There were only a few Icelandic releases that stuck with me this year. One of them was Morpholith’s first EP, ‘Void Emissions,’ which completely blew me away— a feeling that was only intensified by their insanely powerful live shows. Morpholith’s mix of psychedelic elements and crushing doom riffs is guaranteed to put you into a heavy trance while making your neck hurt at the same time.
Another release that thoroughly impressed—and which was closely connected to an intense live experience—was Hórmónar’s debut album ‘Nanananabúbú.’ With compelling lyrics, emotional vocals that pierce right through your heart, and a rough yet well-judged production, this was my Icelandic album of the year. More than once I have cried my eyes out and screamed along with this album, because it is just so damn good. If you ever have the chance to see this band live, do not fucking hesitate—just do it and thank me later.