Whenever some crappy band in Iceland decides to pretend they’re múm or Sigur Rós and make a bunch of slow, boring and uneventful music that’s supposed to make you feel as if you’re soaring over a glacier, I feel like I want to stab their bodies full of holes for me to defecate into. The fact that there’s actually a label applied to that whole culture, Krútt (Icelandic for cute), makes me want to vomit blood into those same holes.
The difference between Ekkium and the fadfucking idiots populating Sirkus is that Ekkium put their hearts into their music instead of wearing it on their sleeve, and put their heads into their songwriting instead of their image. They really, really mean what they’re doing, and you can tell from a mile off. They practically taste like sincerity, and what’s more is that they’re good at what they do.
Their music is slow, hypnotic guitar work that saunters through laid-back chord progressions. Usually accompanied by a solid, flat-tone bass that occasionally swerves into progressive territory, they recently added a violinist, Helga, to their entourage, or at least recently enough that she did not play with them at Músíktilraunir (the annual Icelandic ‘Battle of the Bands’) this year, and adding her may actually have been a mistake.
The violin clutters their sound too much. The simple minimalism of the guitars and the bass they presented at Músíktilraunir was so superior because it let the songwriting speak for itself, leaving the intricacies of their composition to the fine guitar work of Elín and Nonni, whereas now they’ve begun to lose that defining edge, and have even started to clog up their music with samples and a xylophone.
“They’re going to have to be very careful if they don’t want to end up sounding exactly like Sigur Rós,” a friend of mine who did sound mixing at the concert told me, and I was inclined to agree with him.
Elín’s mystical, insightful lyrics might also do better with a less forced method of delivery, although the fact that she sounds like a squeezable plush toy may have less to do with pretence than the fact that she actually is a plush toy; her mindless giggles every time something went wrong during the show suggested someone so infatuated with existence that it was hard to believe anything worse than a slight headache had ever happened to her.
Incidentally, headaches were not something easily gotten at Friday’s concert. The music and the crowd were so quiet that one could clearly hear the various bands rehearsing at Tilraunarþróunarmiðstöðin (the former fish-packing plant serves as both a rehearsal space and concert venue for fledgling bands) while watching the concert, which was kind of annoying, but mostly just nice. It served as proof of the fact that potency in music is not a question of being loud, attention-grabbing or gripping, or even competent (Ekkium were badly sound checked, their cords were irreversibly tangled and they made many a mistake in the delivery of their songs). It’s just a question of meaning what you do.
Upon my initial viewing of Le Poulet De Romance, I instantly dismissed them as idiots. Playing a jerky, squirming amalgamation of folk, rock, pop, funk and tango and pretending to be French in an incredibly dumb, almost prejudiced way, they made the crowd laugh so much with their juvenile antics that they all but forgot about the music. A band that writes lyrics like, “Marie Antoinette, give us our bread / we are hungry, tired and poor” is practically begging not to be taken seriously, especially when the words are sung in a cartoon-quality French accent.
When I saw them the second time, my attitude towards them shifted slightly. I realised that in order for a band to be so stylistically pure, they would have to have a very definitive vision for the kind of band they wanted to be, which I found admirable. I also noticed that they were very capable musicians, perfectly synchronised and minimal, and one the few bands I had seen that was capable of modernising folk music without making it sound like utter shit. Also, in between the fairly formulaic compositions and classically schooled chord progressions, there were tantalising glimpses of incredibly daring and masterful pop songwriting that outshone anything their contemporaries could muster.
And now, seeing them for the third time, I fell in love with Le Poulet De Romance. Perhaps not their image, which already seems tired and useless after three viewings, and perhaps not their humour, which is sophomoric at best, but their innovation, their craftsmanship and their daring.
Singer/guitarist Ingi Vífill is not only a master of writing squiggly and eccentric guitar hooks, but is also blessed with a calm, collected and very sexy rock star attitude, and his passionate croon can be even sexier, especially because he uses it so sparingly; you spend the first half of every song begging for him to go for the high notes instead of the conceited meowls he prefers in the verses. He is backed by a superior and innovative rhythm section, with the bass often carving out solid hooks of its own that intertwine seamlessly with the guitar work, and the drums keep the whole thing from evaporating into nonsense just the way they should.
And while Ekkium were intriguing and endearing, I could do without seeing them play and not be put out a great deal. But I am already waiting for the next Le Poulet De Romance show. Their haughty, almost snobbish self-indulgence, mixed so perfectly with their honest integrity, should by all rights make them star players in Reykjavík’s beleaguered music scene, but that scene has been known to disagree with me before, so maybe I’ll just have to pretend to hate them if I want them to become known.