Myrra Rós makes the kind of music that makes you want to close your eyes. Not because the band is terrible looking (they’re all cute!), but because it’s the sort of blissed out, mellow folk pop that causes people to stand, maybe sway a little and just listen. They make nice, polite music that wouldn’t be out of place as background music in a crowded café.
Lead singer Myrra Rós Þrastardóttir, has an appearance that doesn’t seem to quite match her band’s sound: dressed in all black, with long blond hair that’s partially shaved over her right ear and a pierced eyebrow to match. It’s not the typical mousy, folksy acoustic look. As soon as the band began their first song, however, it was apparent that she takes her craft very seriously. Her voice is rich and smoky, and it was a joy to watch her on stage because she looked as if she truly enjoyed performing. She often had a blissful smile between notes, and made gracious (albeit sometimes a little awkward) banter with the crowd between songs.
All songs were in Icelandic except one, “Animal.” Myrra mentioned several times that this was a rare instance where they had a full band, and the track made good use of bass player Andrés Lárusson and drummer Kristofer Rodrigues Svönuson. Slow and brooding, the quartet turned what could have been a rather paltry acoustic track into something with substance that was actually quite powerful. It was one of the last songs of the set, and for the first time it seemed as if the audience opened their eyes and took notice.
If this artist was a food: Cinnamon-brown sugar oatmeal. Predictable, hearty and overall a pretty safe choice. Great when you’re in the mood, could taste like bland mush when you’re not.
In a similar vein as Myrra Rós, Icelandic singer/songwriter Elín Ey took the stage next. Whereas Myrra Rós were a bit more poppy, a bit more inviting, Elín Ey was reserved and refined.
Just her and her guitar, Elín sang hauntingly honest songs about bad breakups (“You can’t have what is left of me anymore,” she sings defiantly in one of the first songs of the set) and encountering a potential lover on a drunken night out (“I don’t remember kissing you, then falling down. My mother says I’ll drink myself to death.”) She even did a cover of Elliot Smith’s ‘Drink Up Baby,’ with lyrics about running from the past and finding solace in a new lover who promises to make it all go away.
Elín’s music has substance, depth and sometimes seemed a bit heavy with baggage. At one point, she made the crowded venue seem even more intimate and personal by signing a poem written by her great grandmother titled, “If I Were An Angel With Wings.”
Elín Ey was a welcome reprieve from many folk artists who make pretty songs but don’t have much to say.
If this artist was a food: Coffee. Black. Maybe a pinch of sugar but absolutely no cream.
A song called “Peter Pan” was one of the first few songs performed by Gabríel and entourage. “It’s a song for people who don’t want to grow up,” one of the members explained. Upon listening further, perhaps the group in general makes music for people who don’t want to grow up either.
The group’s blend of melodic tunes punctuated by hip hop verses and choruses sung by an Icelandic version of Frank Ocean made for stark contrast between the previous quiet, folky acts.
The “special guests” in the performance are really what made the show (Really. They did. Gabríel didn’t utter a word the entire performance). Emmsjé Gauti exploded onto the stage for a song, and he had enough energy for the entire crowd and then some. Delivering verses at rapid-fire speed, not even my Icelandic friend was willing to try and translate them for me. He bounded around stage with the energy of someone who’s got something to prove, and didn’t even seemed phased when he couldn’t get the crowd to raise their hands and follow the beat. He was having too much fun on his own to care.
For the finale, the group performed “Stjörnuhröp,” a catchy single featuring Valdimar, a fellow Airwaves artist. Valdimar’s vocal chorus not only anchored the track, but also stole the show, adding a complimenting contrast to the rhyme-y hip hop verses throughout the song.
Their brand of hip hop doesn’t sound like the typical macho, in-your-face-bravado that often characterizes the genre, and their mix of rap verses and smooth vocal choruses create something not quite hip hop but not quite anything else either.
If this artist was a food: Spodi served out of a punch bowl at a frat house.
For the first time all night, audience cheers erupted as Norway’s Highasakite took the stage. With black stripes painted on their faces and bodies, I wasn’t sure if the show was about to take a terrible turn (would this be weird indie kids culturally appropriating tribal war paint to be cute and gimmicky? GTFO). But as they started playing, the face paint immediately made sense.
The band has a sound that really is “tribal,” somewhat reminiscent of Yeasayer’s 2007 neo-psychedelic album ‘All Hour Cymbals.’ Many of the band’s choruses were more like wailing calls, backed by a steady drumbeat and sprinkled with some tambourine and brass horn. One of the songs near the end of the set had a raucous urgency to it, with pounding drums and a big, full, mighty sound that filled the packed venue. It was punctuated by a chorus that didn’t sound English, Icelandic or Norwegian, and may as well been of some long lost language from a remote corner of the world.
It was evident the band had a sense of humour about themselves too. “Hi everyone, we’re high as a kite,” the lead vocalist said in between songs. High on what, you ask? Definitely not marijuana. Peyote maybe? AYAHUASCA ANYONE?! Whatever it is, I want some.
If this artist was a food: Fruity pebbles in a bowl of coconut milk.
When I asked some Icelandic friends to describe Thorunn Antonia‘s music, I got Britney Spears comparisons and “something vaguely Eurovision.”
Neither of those comparisons are entirely accurate, but they’re not entirely outrageous either. Thorunn Antonia makes pop music, and trying to intellectually dissect a series of hooks and verses driven by a disco beat isn’t fair and it isn’t the point. They were the kind of songs where the vocals are strangled by a thundering disco-esque beat meant to get people dancing (or grinding, whatever). This is fine, because most people listening to this are probably wasted at a club at 3 a.m., and if they’re not, they should be.
Thorunn Antonio knows this too, at one point saying to the crowd in between songs, “We were going to play a slow song, and then a fast one, but fuck it, let’s play another fast one!” And the crowd loved it, moving and singing along more than they had all night.
What’s more, unlike the manufactured pop princesses in the States, Thorunn Antonia has a legitimately good voice, using it to sing songs about heartbeats and electricity and whatnot. Better yet (worse yet?), they will get stuck in your head. You go girl.
If this artist was a food: A tequila sunrise with a shitton of grenadine.
Oh! He who graces our Grapevine cover! Ásgeir Trausti! The 20-year-old singer/songwriter took the stage last, much to the crowd’s excitement. At first he didn’t even acknowledge the crowd, a startling contrast from the previous four performers who thanked the audience profusely in an endearing, gosh-we’re-just-happy-to-be-here way. But then again, I guess you don’t need to when your debut album breaks records the week before it’s physical release.
Ásgeir Trausti makes slow, melodic pop folk music with high, crooning vocals. It’s reminiscent of Bon Iver and it’s clearly a formula that works. It’s also, apparently, a recipe that makes dudes want to drop their overly masculine façades and sing along. The crowd seemed to be largely male at this point, and everywhere you looked young Icelandic guys were singing along softly, slowly swaying from side to side.
The setlist seemed somewhat all over the place, with the vocals of some songs blending into the instrumentals to create a weird, muddled sound that didn’t have much character or shape at all. Others, however, were brilliant, prompting audience sing-a-longs. One track in particular started out as a garden-variety acoustic ballad, with Ásgeir’s voice high and sweet and clear. All the sudden, it grew into a full band affair, with help from the steady drums and horn section – it matured into a real folk-pop gem.
The performance may have been better suited earlier in the night, or even at a smaller venue. When the band took the stage at 00:10, the crowd had clearly gotten more drunk, with side conversations and chatter ruining what could have been a very intimate performance. Then again, on the band’s end, they weren’t the most animated performers either, and didn’t seem to have much of a stage presence.
The night ended much the same way it began, and the crowd stumbled out of Þýski Barinn in a drunken haze of mellow indie rock.
If this artist was a food: Steak smothered in A1 sauce. Eat it while wearing flannel.