From Iceland — Sound the siren

Sound the siren

Published October 15, 2011

Sound the siren

Once upon a time, the firm calm of sonowolf gaze. Úlfur may be the next beast to explode from birch undergrowth with a gnash of belief. Foregrounding fairy-tale twinkle and crusade, the expansive breath of Úlfur’s instrumentation — from processed guitar to plaintive clarinet — curves growl around a warming glow of space. Their intimate opening proved so electrifying that the light-mains zilched. This is Atmospheric Power at its finest.

The hard-working duo Ljósvaki promised wonderful music, and certainly the copious and undynamic lyrics (backset by vigorous beats) bespoke of wonder. Unfortunately, this youthful dance pop burst the spell cast by Úlfur. Ljósvaki’s attempted revival of the Lionel Richies of ’80s past felt sorely out of the Iðnó fantasy. Rather comical clichés spoken between songs underscored that Ljósvaki’s particular brand of wonderful was out of place at this venue. Airwaves and future concert programmers, take note: Ljósvaki deserves a Factorý or Jacobsen for its electroblahblahblah.

Dirty and soulful, Lay Low respectfully requested removal of high heels from chest as they opened to a suddenly packed room. Their down-home, country-home folkrock jams ratcheted up the bob-n-sway bounce. Lay Low, ever the crowd-pleaser, recast magic in the Iðnó mansion. Their closing number was dark rock, setting Lay Low apart from any genre-narrowing impulses.

Puzzle Muteson’s debut En Garde received wide play during his set, accompanied by many friends of the stunning Bedroom Community label. Backed by luminaries such as Ben Frost, Daníel Bjarnason, and Valgeir Sigurðsson, Muteson’s honey-troubled ballads shone. Out of wreckage comes such bitter, gorgeous imagining, and this music stands as testament to the constant repurposed expression of the human condition. Exquisite. Even a struggle with the sound system couldn’t repress the humble perfection of Puzzle’s set.

By the time Owen Pallett (the artist formerly known as Final Fantasy) took the stage, Iðnó was crammed with energy. His frenetic finger-pick on violin kick-started an incredible set. Oh, blessed vibrant sound of Midnight Directives! Oh, full-tilt apocalyptic melodrama of Keep the Dog Quiet! Lewis Takes Action brought the audience a jolly good time with the fire from Owen Pallett’s fingers.

Mid-set, Owen announced that he’s been recording new work at Greenhouse Studios the past few weeks, and then treated the audience to three of these gifts. Falsetto and rapid tap on the first song elicited FUCKING WOW from my pen. The second, Infernal Fantasy (har), can only be described as arcade gone haywire / Atari overload. An electro-robotic start-up preceded the violin strummed as ukulele on the third song, a sparkly puppy-pop-island-fantasy crackle in (possibly?) 7/4 time. As the set progressed, violin wailed as siren (oscillating between ambulance and mythic creature), a sole witness to an unraveling human tragedy. Tryst with Mephistopheles returned to more known Pallett tunes, and this was swiftly chased with the Final Fantasy favourite This Is the Dream of Win & Regime. By the absolutely brilliant set’s end, the audience was so frenzied they begged for more. Too bad it’s Airwaves and there’s no time for indulging encores.

On an organ bedecked with hot-lit dolls, OY was all gothic poetry. With a flick of a doll, OY rapped into a confident ditty, playing her vocal folds and dolls with delight. OY is a fast-paced, multi-layered one-woman act, putting to rest the tired cliché of yesteryear’s one-man band. Her playfulness and singing experimentation remind of Regina Spektor, but much heavier and stylistically fickle in a Kinnie Starr kinda way. Solidly in the realm of song, OY relies on all her voice can muster in its raspberries and screeches, jazz scat and alto lilt. Arguably, the most exciting sonic moment in her show came through layered loops of freshly inflated balloon leak. Loud and gritty. And truly hilarious.

For the night’s final set, a lone sign reading “LOST” towered above the chattering crowd while a couple kept their umbrella raised (bad luck?!). 12-piece band Útidúr unleashed youthful love-boat fantasy on the omen-drenched crowd, ebbing artfully from pseudo-samba to rock anthem. Marooned in the tech-spent island of Iðnó, Útidúr’s ravishing chanteuse was a vision in her ecstatic dance and smile, and only improved when her sugar-sweet mezzo-soprano was amplified mid-set. I could gripe about the male vocalist’s put-on, suppressed back-of-throat vocal style, but that would spoil this otherwise enthusiastic review — anyone could be quite pleased with an Útidúr experience. A hungry, unsleepy audience demanded “MEIRA” at night’s end, but all they were met with was the offer to buy CDs.

On a final note, bless Iðnó’s tech team who had their hands full all night. A swarm of trouble plagued each set, triggered by a power shortage during that spellbinding Úlfur opening. Despite that even Bjossi, working magic with reduced lights due to a storm’s shortage of Iðnó’s available grid, showed his technical prowess and creativity on lights during OY’s set.

And thus ended the saga of a Friday Iðnó night in the grand Icelandic capital of Reykjavík.

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