As we drift into autumn and both Airwaves and the end of the year get closer on the horizon, we thought it would be a good time to look back at the Icelandic music that most enthralled, inspired and surprised us over the last twelve months. From gothronica to nu-classical to doom-rock and zeitgeist-capturing indie-pop, here’s the first part of our music team’s tracks of the year.
An underrated album this year was ‘Light Is Liquid’ from múm’s Örvar Smárason. It’s loaded with crisp, clean electronic melancholia, produced with a beautiful retro-futurist sheen. Lead single “Photoelectric” is a highlight, with a guest vocal performance from up ‘n’ comer Sillus, but the tracks I’ve returned to most frequently are “Hailstorms & Hydrogen Bombs,” which expresses fleeting moments of positivity under the twin spectres global warming and Trump-era politics, and “Cthulu Regio,” which offers a pretty stoic take on the end of the world. Another must-hear is the forthcoming “Affliction/Absolution” 7” from emerging goth-pop star Sólveig Matthildur—her band Kælan Mikla is going overground this year, after opening for Placebo and The Cure, but her solo material is nakedly emotional and utterly stunning.
Hannah Jane Cohen
In my interview with Ólafur Arnalds earlier this year, he joked about how he wanted his music to be more than just something you put on in the background while studying. I get what he meant, but Ólafur has a knack for turning passive listening into a visceral experience. Managing to be at once both calming and completely inoffensive, his newest effort, ‘re:member’ is as good as mood music can get. Standouts for me include the title track and “they sink,” both of which are great to cry to. Ólafur may not be the most hip choice on this playlist, but hey, it’s been on rotation at my place.
Phil Uwe Widiger
My track of the year so far is the third track of Morpholith’s ‘Void Emissions’ EP. “VoidWalker” is the EP’s longest track, clocking in at 12 minutes, and it’s worth every second of it. The song starts with a melodic riff, followed by a verse with clean singing that consequently breaks down into a heavier part with feverish screams—a little taste of what is yet to come. Morpholith are known for incorporating psychedelic elements into their stoner-doom sound, and the solo on this track is no exception. At around five minutes, the track slows down, and we are led into a melancholic section, featuring spoken word, with amazing drum parts. The song builds in intensity, only to climax into a breakdown that makes my neck hurt every single time. When the song finally ends, I always have trouble remembering where I am at, as if I had just travelled into another world. Pure eargasm.
It’s safe to say that the one of the most distinctive bands in the Icelandic music scene is the project of the brilliant farmer-slash-musician Prins Póló. His new album, ‘Þriðja kryddið’ (‘The Third Spice’) is full of humorous naive melodies and surprisingly inventive lyrics about carelessness—like what to do when the toilet paper is missing, and a melancholic ode to the let downs in life. Which brings us to the greatest track of the year, “Líf Ertu Að Grínast” (“Life, Are You Joking?”). This depressing anthem about the mundane rituals of life is amplified with sarcastic Disney-style steel drums, cheerful ‘whoos,’ and perky ‘80s drums. But don’t let all that fool you, for the mindfulness is busy, it’s out walking the dog. Everybody is just out working their ass off, and asking themselves vital questions like “do I have any chance to own a blue metallic Benz or a fake fur coat?” The album is easily one of the best of the year, and “Líf Ertu Að Grínast” is on its way to become a defining song of a generation.
Part two will follow soon. Read more about Icelandic music here.