From Iceland — Hjaltalín


Published March 7, 2008


Dressed in their Sunday best, which in this case included top hats and tails, Hjaltalín took to the purple-lit stage at NASA in front of a dead silent crowd. With the dance floor occupied by chairs and the bordering wings crammed even tighter, the room appeared packed and tense. Warming up, Borko brought an unfocused simplicity of both lyrics and musicianship into a kind of hearty relevance but Ólöf Arnalds, making her post-maternal-leave debut, was almost impossible to follow over a sea of chatter coming from the bar.

With a sudden perky bounce, Hjaltalín launched into their set, the exultant exhibition of their first and recently released album, Sleepdrunk Seasons. Right from the outset it seemed clear that their music, regardless, is most effective, if not impressive, live. Their bigband sound is clean and wielded effectively so as to achieve not simply volume, but a kind of bigness.

At the opening notes of, and the words, “Goodbye July,” there was a lively cheer and rustle through the crowd as people started stomping their feet and swaying feverishly from side to side. Though in some measure tiresomely optimistic, the song did stand on its own with a kind of catchy cohesion. It was an effect demonstrated in only a number of the songs, while a few, like the following Kveldúlfur, remained irksomely vague and unassertive.

The song I Lie deftly demonstrated the distinct charm and rustic depth in Högni’s voice, which managed to fill an endless amount of space despite being accompanied by a comparatively cut down lineup of instruments. With a standing ovation, the night ended in as much excitement as it had begun. The enthusiasm seemed excessive, but not unwarranted for a well-played and skillfully executed set; limited only perhaps by its seemingly endless and indiscriminate optimism, but certainly not hindered by its exuberance.

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