From Iceland — Grapevine's 2016 Playlist To End All 2016 Playlists

Grapevine’s 2016 Playlist To End All 2016 Playlists

Published January 5, 2017

Grapevine’s 2016 Playlist To End All 2016 Playlists

There was a veritable raft—nay, a FLOTILLA—of Icelandic bands doing great things in 2016. Aron Can, for example, racked up literally millions of Spotify plays in 2016—no small feat when only ~330,000 people can understand the language you’re rapping in. Fellow rappers Emmsjé Gauti and Gísli Pálmi dominated the scene, unleashing new tracks that went instantly viral. And on the quieter end of the spectrum, artists like Ólafur Arnalds, Pascal Pinon, JFDR and Snorri Helgason put out songs that everyone should hear.

So over and above the eight bands who won at the Grapevine’s 2016 Music Awards, and in the spirit of celebrating the whole scene, here it is: the end-of-year Icelandic music playlist to end all end-of-year Icelandic music playlists.

Andi – Góðkynja
Andi means “spirit” in English, and there is a whole lot of that in the best cut from Andi’s glorious debut album. Bright and breezy synth chords bounce off each other in a track that morphs outwards and inwards over the course of its short running time. STR

Aron Can – Þekkir stráginn
In April buzz started to spread that Aron Can, a kid who had only released a couple of promising songs on SoundCloud, had a sizzling mixtape on the way. This unknown kid was reaching GP levels of hype, and more than a few were skeptical. On May 1st the first single from that mixtape, “Enginn Mórall,” dropped on YouTube. By the end of the year, the song had accumulated more than a million listens—the hype was real. It’s the song that crowned the new prince of Icelandic hip-hop and no end-of-the-year playlist is complete without it.JB

aYia – Water Plant
It wasn’t easy liking this song in 2016. It’s the fiercest kind of earworm—the type that burrows itself so far into your mind that you find yourself drifting out of conversations because it’s playing behind your thoughts. A spacious, atmospheric gem of a track, ‘Water Plant’ is characterised by detailed, forward-thinking production and a breathy, enticing vocal performance, and it left us hungry for more. JR

Bjarki – Here It Comes Can You Feel It 92 Hoover 2 – Original Mix
One of Iceland’s most underground scenes, literally and figuratively, is the rave cave scene. The caves in question aren’t dimly lit basements—they’re actual caves (this is Iceland after all). Bjarki didn’t get a lot of attention in Iceland last year; techno hasn’t reached the ears of many not on Molly. It’s a true shame, since he is one of our most talented musicians. JB

BlazRoca – FÝRUPP
Pre-gaming needs a playlist, and no respectable one would be complete without BlazRoca’s “FÝRUPP” (“BLAZE,” in English). This song isn’t just catchy, aggressive, and infectious, but it also contains the best exchange in Icelandic rap all year:
Blaz: Dett inn á bar, vill fá þrefaldann strax. // Fall into the bar, give me a triple right now.
Bartender: Þrefaldann í hvað? // Triple mixed with what?
Blaz: Mig varðar ekkert um það! // I don’t give a fuck!
Bartender: Þrefaldann í hvað? // Triple mixed with what?
Blaz: Hvurslags spurning er það?? // What kind of a question is that??
Bartender: Þrefaldann í hvað? // Triple mixed with what?
See what I mean? HJC

Emmsjé Gauti feat. Aron Can – Silfurskotta
Emmsjé Gauti is the true king of Icelandic hip-hop, dominating last year with two albums—most notably the ultra popular ‘Vagg & Velta’. It was only fitting that the most popular song from the album, “Silfurskotta,” saw the king featuring the prince of Icelandic hip-hop. During last summer, there wasn’t a radio station/club/fishing boat you could board without hearing the song. Perhaps the peak of Icelandic hip-hop. JB

Fufanu – Sports
In year dominated by hip-hop, one rock song shone through it all and mesmerised us with a motoric krautrock beat, mindblowing guitar excursions and a catchy chorus. It’s both accessible and experimental, and arrived with the best video of the year to boot. Fufanu have come a long way (baby?), and we take our hats off to them. STR

Geimfarar – Hvíti Galdur
Never trying too hard, and always getting shit done. I don’t know how much work Geimfarar put into each track, and that’s part of the finesse. They prove that you can be loud without screaming. One of my favourite rap duos in the area, hands down. Easy listening, hard track. PY

Gísli Pálmi – Roro
“Roro” proved once and for all that you can get a table full of PC-Icelandic-hipsters to happily sing about roofies. No, don’t worry, the song isn’t about roofying others, it’s about roofying yourself, which according to this song, involves being in slo-motion and wearing polo vests and just genuinely being waaay fresh. HJC

GKR – Erfitt
“Erfitt” is unlike any rap song we’ve heard this year, focusing on the most basic of feelings: that life is hard and complex. You try to navigate the process of becoming a better person, but often don’t know the direction. When the most relatable feeling of the year is laid over this banging production, only greatness can come of it. STR

GKR – Slæmar Fréttir
“Meira” does it big and “Morgunmatur” has had its time to shine, but it’s the first track from GKR’s EP that I kept going back to. It’s not a breakfast cereal rap—it’s a dark rap with a beat that keeps you light on your toes. It’s the brand of rap that I grew up with, something that stirs feelings of anger and disillusionment (even without having any fucking idea what he’s saying). For me, on this one GKR says something without having to say it. PY

JFDR – White Sun
“White Sun” is a song based around a haunting looped keyboard melody. But also, it’s about other kinds of loops: the cycle of the seasons, the opening and closing of relationships, and the cosmic waymarkers of the calendar. By weaving the theme of the track into both its lyrics and structure, Jófríður displays the kind of imagination that catapulted her to the forefront of Iceland’s music scene in 2016—and onto the cover of Grapevine, in November. JR

Jón Þór – Frúin í Hamborg
“Frúin í Hamborg” is an indie-rock anthem taken from a four-song EP with the same name. Jón Þór is channeling the likes of Pavement, Blur, Weezer and Built to Spill, with great results. STR

Kilo – Magnifico
If you’re reading this, there’s a chance you don’t speak Icelandic. In that case, Icelandic rap might not be your cup of tea—or at least, a type of tea you worry you won’t understand. Thank God then, for the arrival of Kilo’s magnificent masterpiece “Magnifico.” This is a proper full-on hip-hop party anthem that even the stodgiest tastemaker couldn’t deny is effing catchy. It’s the song you’ll catch yourself humming in the car. It’s the song you’ll catch yourself dancing on a table to. Whether or not rapping about snapbacks and kicks is your thing, you can indulge your 00s-gangsta side a little here. HJC

Kosmodod – Komets
I was living in Berlin when I was introduced to time travel. The man who built the machine housed it in an out of commission U-Bahn tunnel just beyond Frankfurter Tor. We wore electric yellow vests and entered the hollow tunnel entrance without trouble. It breathed secrecy. He asked me what song I wanted to listen to while I traversed space-time, and I told him “Komets” by Kosmodod. PY

KRELD – Way Low
It might not appear on many end-of-year lists, but Sykur mainstay Kristján Eldjárn quietly began an exciting new collaborative solo project in 2016. “Way Low” was the first track to be released, and it’s a slow, pulsing masterclass in down-tempo electronica. His live sets at Airwaves showed that he’s sitting on a treasure trove of equally good material. One to watch. JR

Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm – 23:52
When Ólafur stretches his legs a little—as he does in his techno project Kiasmos, and on this collaborative album—his intuitive sense for melody combines with a playful imagination. “23:52” is a looping synth instrumental that’s imbued with an expansive sense of wonder. It builds beautifully, and echoes around the mind long after the five minutes are over. JR

Pascal Pinon – 53
‘Sundur’ was perhaps Pascal Pinon’s most intimate album to date, which is saying a lot. The first single, ”53,” is a searingly personal song that describes the suicide of a friend’s mother, and then proceeds to try and sooth away his pain with a gentle, empathic, cooing chorus. JR

Samaris – Wanted 2 Say
‘Black Lights’ by Samaris is our Album of the Year, on the basis that it was so full of good tracks that rewarding just one didn’t feel right. That said, first single “Wanted 2 Say” set the bar high for what was to come. It was their first song to be sung in English, and with its uptempo rhythm and catchy chorus, it opened new doors for one of Iceland’s top bands. JR

Snorri Helgason – Einsemd
Snorri released his first album in Icelandic last year and ‘Einsemd’ is one of its strongest tracks. Portraying solitude in a bright light, it captures perfectly the “grass is always greener” mood many feel whilst in relationships. A refreshingly honest track. JB

Spítali – You
“You” is a high-quality house number with a romantic ambience. It grinds and builds higher and higher over the course of its six minutes, with hard-hitting drums, 80s synth pads and fractured vocal snippets that hypnotise you on headphones and dance floors alike. STR

JR: John Rogers, PY: Parker Yamasaki, SP: Sveinbjörn Pálsson, JB: Jón Ben, HJC: Hannah Jane Cohen, STR: Straumur (Davíð Roach & Óli Dóri)

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