Published October 22, 2014
From start to finish, Grúska Babúska’s wobbly, otherworldly self-titled debut is a pleasure to experience. There is something definitively narrative and theatrical about the ten-song collection, whose eclectic instrumentation includes flute, ukulele, guitar, synth, melodica, music box and a range of pitched percussion. The theatrical nature of the record derives from the constant starting, stopping, and resetting that punctuates each of the songs, resulting in a rare disturbing—yet captivating—listening experience. The arrangements are masterfully crafted, and chaotically layered without feeling crowded or pretentious. The record’s opening track, “Slagarinn,” begins with a minimal synth line, building in texture and dynamic with a blend of plucked instruments and percussion before dropping out completely to reveal a smattering of doubled flute melodies—and this is all before the first verse has even begun. The lyrics, delivered exclusively in the band’s native Icelandic, curl sleepily around the busy compositions, upholding Grúska Babúska’s vocal talents as one of the undeniable strengths of this record.
The four-piece was founded in 2010 by Arndís Anna Kristínar, Harpa Fönn Sigurjónsdóttir, and Guðrún Birna, joined in the following years by Dísa Hreiðarsdóttir and Björk Viggósdóttir. The group recorded and released their debut in the spring of 2013, co-producing the album with Tunng’s Mike Lindsay and employing Greenhouse Studios’s Paul Evans for the mix. The band’s imagery centres heavily around a version of the popular Russian Matryoshka doll, which appears on all of their social media platforms, their album cover, and in their one official music video. Though it is unclear why the band took such a liking to Russian folk art, the decision seems justifiable simply in the impenetrable and spontaneous nature of its musical output.