We at The Reykjavík Grapevine really like music despite what you might have surmised from reading our magazine. It’s just that we care so much about it that some of the things we keep writing might be taken as being mean or antagonistic or whatever, but the fact of the matter is that if you truly madly deeply care about things, you are apt to scrutinize them every chance you get because you believe in your heart that they can and should be perfect. You really do.
Nah, the reason most of our music writers are our music writers certainly isn’t the fat pay cheque they receive after every review they turn in (with a fat bonus for every pointed insult contained therein)—there barely is one. It isn’t the glory. It isn’t the pleasure of being harassed by asshole friends of bands at bars (although that can be kinda fun, in a masochistic sorta way).
Nope. The reason we write about music, whether it be attempting to cover every single show of Iceland Airwaves, publishing full reports of shindigs like Eistnaflug and Extreme Chill, reviewing random garage bands or reviewing every goddamn Iceland-pertinent album we get sent (and even buying them, if people don’t dare send them to us), is because we care. Our music writers as well as our editorial staff and even our goddamn advertising department lives and breathes music every hour of every day.
Yes. We have had a long standing love affair with Icelandic music. In that spirit, we decided to make our own music awards. It’s nothing big, and we are not claiming to be any authority or anything. We just thought that we would honour some of those wonderful people who make living on the edge of this desolate rock on the edge of the Arctic Circle bearable, enjoyable even. We want to heap them with praise and bestow prizes upon them (like a band retreat to Hótel Búðir or a dinner party at Tapas Bar) and give them a bunch of stickers proclaiming their status as awesome, which they can put on their albums to sell to tourists in the summer (tourists, if you are reading this, make sure to buy as much Icelandic music as you can).
We want to show our love, because we can.
THIS IS HOW WE DID IT:
We called up some people who are deeply involved with Icelandic music and whose opinions we trust pretty well and asked them to be on a small committee that would determine who would be the first recipients of our music awards thing. These people are: Andri Freyr Viðarsson, popular radio and television host for Rás 2 and RÚV respectively, Kamilla Ingibergsdóttir, Iceland Airwaves’ head of PR, and our very own Bob Cluness, music writer, prosthetic limb builder and head of Grapevine’s music writing team.
We arranged two meetings with these people, which we ceremoniously monitored and recorded for the purposes of eventually writing down and publishing their arguments. They had preliminary discussions at the first meeting, talking about what they liked in Icelandic music in 2012 and who they thought should get an award and why. Then we exchanged records and songs and ideas and reconvened a week later, after everyone had had plenty of time to think and listen, to determine the final list of recipients.
All in all, it was around four hours of feverish and passionate talking about music. And the results are here! Read on for our condensation of the discussion of how they reached their decision. Feel free to fret and disagree, you could even write us a letter telling us why (if it’s not an asshole letter, we promise to print it. We could even give you some sort of prize… imagine that!).
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
Andri Freyr Viðarsson
Andri Freyr Viðarsson is the co-host of extremely popular Rás 2 morning radio show “Virkir morgnar” (“Active mornings”) along with making the also-extremely popular television programmes “Andri á flandri” (“Andri Wanders”). His role as radio personality ensures he gets exposed to most, if not all, Icelandic music that gets released, and his long-standing love for music is well documented, having performed with bands, DJ’d and written about music since his teens.
Kamilla Ingibergsdóttir is a heated music fan and has been actively involved with the organisation, management and staging of Iceland Airwaves for a while now. She also worked for the Iceland Music Export for a number of years, before recently moving on to a full-time position with the Airwaves festival. Due to Kamilla’s position and passion for music, she can be frequently spotted at concerts around town and keeps an extremely close eye on every going-on in Icelandic music.
Bob Cluness has been The Reykjavík Grapevine’s Music Manager (a title we invented for him and entails him keeping tabs on what’s being reviewed and by who, as well as making sure our reviews are fit to print) since early 2012. Prior to this, he had held a position as ‘occasional music-and-sometimes-other-stuff freelancer’ since 2009, after he submitted some super fun writing to us and we thought: hey, that guy should write some more! He also works as a prosthetic limb maker for Össur, which is pretty damn awesome no matter which way you look at it.
Without further ado, let us introduce THE REYKJAVÍK GRAPEVINE’S FIRST (HOPEFULLY) ANNUAL MUSIC AWARDS!
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Hjaltalín – Enter 4
Photo by Héðinn Eiríksson
It was clear pretty much from the get go that Hjaltalín’s ‘Enter 4’ would take this cake, but our lovely committee still felt like we should be honouring some of the other great albums of 2012—leaving out great works from Retro Stefson, Ojba Rasta, Ghostigital, Moses Hightower and Valgeir Sigurðsson, to name but a few, was tough. However, “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE” as per our Highlander-inspired guidelines. And at that meeting, we couldn’t stop talking about that Hjaltalín album and its effects on us.
“‘Enter 4’ is nothing less than a game changer,” remarked one panel member. “It was like a slap in the face. I didn’t expect it! And through repeated listening, the thing only got better.”
“It’s a masterpiece,” remarked another, “the band moves away from that huge sound of their first two albums and ventures off into an adventurous exploration of sound, melody and emotion. You don’t see a lot of Icelandic bands talking about human feelings in such an honest way.”
In the end, we probably spent an overt amount of time discussing just how much we liked the album, sounding more like awestruck fanboys than a proper panel of ‘music expert professionals.’
The panel deems ‘Enter 4’ the best Icelandic album of 2012. It is a huge leap for Hjaltalín as a band and Icelandic music in general. In a year with so many contenders, rising above the greats was always going to be tough, so it is all the more impressive that Hjaltalín accomplished this. Read more on ‘Enter 4’ in panel member Bob Cluness’s review of the album, page 19 of our current issue (it’ll also be on-line soon enough). ALSO: Not convinced? Try downloading a high quality mp3 of the wonderful “Crack In A Stone” off ‘Enter 4’, courtesy of the band itself and your friends at The Grapevine. Just click the track name (actually, right click + ‘save as’)!
SONG OF THE YEAR: Moses Hightower – Háa C
It took forever to reach a conclusion on song of the year and that’s only to be expected, since a year that yields such a number of great albums is pretty likely to yield a bunch of great songs, too.
Retro Stefson’s “Qween” and “Glow” were both highly favoured among the panel, as well as Ojba Rasta’s “Jolly Good” and “Baldursbrá.” Those are all great songs. Others were discussed too. However, we all kept coming back to Moses Hightower and their stunning-in-its-simplicity track “Háa C,” off their 2012 sophomore record ‘Önnur Mósebók.’ This was doubly reinforced during our second meeting—it seemed the assorted panel members had spent most of the days between our meetings listening to it on repeat.
“I’ve been listening to all the songs we talked about, and in the end I have to go with “Háa C,” one panellist proclaimed at the start of our second meeting. “The way it builds its groove and keeps going is infectious, and the way you seem absolutely unable to grow tired of it is remarkable. It’s just so good!”
Although the lovely Icelandic lyrics to “Háa C” (insightful, witty, with a dash of puns thrown in for good measure) are unfortunately beyond our non-Icelandic speaking readers, the rest of the track makes up for it in volumes. It is a track where everything comes together in a delightful explosion of calculated restraint; the infectious melody, the warm ‘70s soul groove (emphasised by an excellent sounding drum track) and the bouncy vocal track. It’s fucking good, is what it is.
The panel deems Moses Hightower’s “Háa C” to be absolutely the best Icelandic song of the year, in every possible respect. Thank you, Moses
Download the track here!
BAND TO WATCH: Muck
Photo by Kasia Klimek
When we say band to watch, we don’t just mean a band that’s physically attractive and puts on an enjoyable stage show (although both apply to our winners this year). We also mean a band that has been gaining momentum for a long while, a band that has been steadily working on their sound, songwriting and attitude, a band that feels like it’s gaining velocity at an alarming rate, destined to arrive at a critical bursting point where they will transition from being promising to dominating sooner than later.
And brutal thrashcore savants Muck proved in 2012 that they were this band without a doubt.
“We have countless examples of extreme bands who make a really extreme debut album and get the young kids wild for their aggressive sound, where the second album is a fucking masterpiece that has a universal appeal beyond the extreme music circuit,” a panellist noted. “We’ve heard this story so many times, and it’ll come true: this is what Iceland needs at the moment and this is what Muck will do. They will transition and maybe smooth their sound a little, and they will hit big. I have no doubt of this.”
Continued another: “There seems to be a relative dearth of inspiring rock music in Iceland at the moment, dangerous stuff that kids can get behind. Muck, with their proper attitude towards music, touring, hard work and absolutely no compromise seem to be just what everyone is waiting for. They seem destined to cross over.”
The panel deems Muck BAND TO WATCH! for 2013. Through their stunning 2012 LP ‘Slaves’, countless live shows in and around Reykjavík, tours of the US (where they are for some reason currently artists in residence at some fancy artist residency in New York) they have convinced us that we have to keep a close eye on them. And we will.
GO SEE THEM PLAY LIVE AS SOON AS YOU CAN AWARD: GusGus
Photo by Alexander Matukhno
There are tons of consistently great live bands to contend with in Iceland. Retro Stefson. Muck. Skálmöld. Mugison. All total pros, each in their own genre, who put on an outstanding show every single time and leave you flustered and thankful to be alive. There is a presence towering over all of these, however, one that simply cannot be ignored, as it can be reasonably argued that they have played a crucial role in pushing forward the quality and idea of Icelandic live shows since before any of Retro Stefson were even born.
And they are still doing it.
That band is GusGus.
This was the conclusion we finally reached. After debating the merits of Muck’s raw hardcore assault versus Retro Stefson’s crafted showmanship versus Skálmöld’s powerful delivery versus Mugison’s absolute control of the crowd, and then thinking whether any working band combined these qualities, the committee slapped its collective forehead and proclaimed: “HOW COULD WE FORGET GUSGUS?”
Perhaps it’s easy to take things for granted when they are constantly present? Or perhaps it is because they set the standard we have come to judge other live shows by? Whatever the reason, we remembered, and they are getting this prize.
Noted a panellist: “Anyone that’s taken a peek behind the scenes of a few GusGus show productions can attest that they can be hard to deal with, but this is merely because of their uncompromising attitude and high level of ambition. GusGus absolutely refuse to put on a show that’s anything short of awe-inspiring, making high demands on the audience, the sound system, the venue and on themselves. This is part of what makes them so great, and why everyone should aspire to see at least one GusGus show during their lifetime.”
To which another added: “And they make it work in every situation, every setting. Even opening up the stage at KEX during lunchtime on Airwaves Wednesday, they enthralled the crowd and blew everyone away.”
The panel deems GusGus Iceland’s best live band. They captivate, tantalise and give their 100% in any situation, truly an experience to be experienced. It is true that a lot of bands played more shows in Iceland in 2012 than GusGus. However, if we are going to give anyone a ‘BEST LIVE ACT’, it has to start with GusGus.
MOST OVERLOOKD ALBUM: Skúli Sverrisson & Óskar Guðjónsson – The Box Tree
Why do some albums not get the love or credit they deserve, while others go on to win mass appeal, capture thousands of hearts and gain untold accolades? Circumstances must play a large part in this, sometimes the public is ready for a certain kind of sound, sometimes there is a space for a certain kind of artist. And sometimes people just don’t notice.
We are once more going to recite the now-cliché phrase “2012 was a great year for Icelandic record releases” (it was). And now we are going to tack on: it is therefore inevitable that some pretty goddamn great records got overlooked or fall by the wayside, or at least not heard by as many people as they should have been.
There are several examples of this, and we are made more aware by the fact that the newspapers had, at the time of our meeting, just released their year-end lists. Glaring omissions of arguably great records from folks such as Valgeir Sigurðsson, Múgsefjun, Dream Central Station, Sudden Weather Change, Heavy Experience… (all names that got thrown around in our discussion) are, well, glaring.
We tackled this subject for quite a while. What albums from 2012 should people have paid more attention to? What should they hurry up and go listen to? Ultimately, we decided that among many great and sort of overlooked records, Skúli Sverrisson and Óskar Guðjónsson’s ‘The Box Tree’ definitely warrants some of you seeking it out and having a listen.
Like a lot of Skúli’s work, ‘The Box Tree’ is a hypnotic and engaging affair that bears repeated listening. Of course this sort of music doesn’t appeal to everyone (music that appeals to everyone is usually not very interesting anyway), but once you let it sink in it can quickly become an indispensable part of your daily routine.
“The reason I keep coming back to this one in our discussion,” one panel member noted, “is that I, well, keep coming back to it. There is something rather magical about this record, a lot of people could probably get a lot out of it given the chance. The problem is maybe that this kind of music usually needs to be sought out. So here I am, encouraging everyone to seek it out. It’s awesome.”
The panel deems Skúli Sverrison and Óskar Guðjónsson’s ‘The Box Tree’ to be a worthy holder of the title ‘MORE PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE LOVED THIS ALBUM IN 2012’. It is endearing, deep, lush sounding and rewards repeated listening. Give it a chance to enhance your life, and it just might.
THE BAND TO REMEMBER: Botnleðja
Photo by Mareva Nardelli
As we are meant to be servicing the international community and telling it about all of the wonderful music that’s coming from Iceland, we sometimes wish there were a way to instil in our readers a sense of context and appreciation for how we got to where we are.
So, we thought we would go beyond celebrating whatever happened in 2012 and having a sort of ‘legacy award,’ honouring and celebrating greatness in our past. We thought: we should make a BAND TO REMEMBER! category, urging everyone to remember some awesome band or musician and dig up their music and give it a spin.
And as soon as we decided to do it (this was actually an idea from the panel itself), we almost immediately jumped on this chance to honour all our childhood heroes Botnleðja (whom some of you might at some point have heard referred to as “Silt” when they were opening up for Blur back in the ‘90s)!
Botnleðja burst onto the scene in 1995 when they won the Músíktilraunir battle of the bands. Apparently, every teenager in the country taped their grungy performance of three tracks on the final night of the competition and for a lot of us the six or so months that passed until they released their proper studio début ‘Drullumall’ took an eternity to pass (the cassettes were getting wobbly from being constantly overplayed and dubbed)!
The Hafnarfjörður three-piece (consisting of guitarist/vocalist Heiðar, bassist Raggi and drummer Halli) had a wonderful sort of appeal that fit right into the climate of the time and seemed designed to resonate with teenagers of all ages. The music was grungy and melodic like Nirvana, dreamy like Smashing Pumpkins, quirky like Blur and fiercely independent, tongue in cheek and possessed a sense of humour for itself that had hitherto been lacking in Icelanders’ version of grunge. And they sang in Icelandic, clever and colourful lyrics, and they dressed cool and they even seemed friendly.
They were a revelation.
A burst of garage bands followed in the wake of Botnleðja, many of whom evolved into some of the bands you love to day (or at least ones that influenced those bands). All the while Botnleðja kept making great music, supplying us with five awesome LPs before calling it a day around a decade ago (which one is the best of these is a highly debated subject among Icelanders, but ‘Fólk er fífl,’ and ‘Magnýl’ are excellent starting points).
Botnleðja made a brief comeback in the summer of 2012 and played a couple of shows to great acclaim. However, we feel like there should have been more. They should have kept going a little, played a few more shows, recorded a few new songs even.
Alas, they did not. But you should most definitely still remember them.
The panel deems Botnleðja as A BAND TO REMEMBER. Their music shaped a generation of Icelanders, and their impressive canon offers hours of enjoyment. Go have a listen at Gogoyoko if you don’t believe us. And thank you, Botnleðja.