From Iceland — Icelandic Soul Is Life Of The Party

Icelandic Soul Is Life Of The Party

Published November 5, 2013

Icelandic Soul Is Life Of The Party

The decision to spend the last night of Airwaves at Gamli Gaukurinn was one of the better ones I made over this four-day music bender. Though Gamli was hot and packed and people were by now sweating beer, there was a sense of camraderie in the room – we’d all made it to the end.

That this was the festival’s farewell may have made Myrra Rós’ opening set even more sobering and beautiful. Her singing is stunning and her songs in both English and Icelandic are honest and raw acoustic folk. If I close my eyes, she sounds like Neko Case with an even more ethereal undercurrent that is easy to get lost in. When she plays with her violinist, it becomes irresistible to drift away to her songs about her daughter, brother and home. I may have just had something in my eye during this performance; I may have shed a tear.

Ragga Gröndal was a killer follow-up and a theatrical vocalist. She sings with expansive range and she sounds like a trained jazz singer, which she is. She shifts from high, staccato melodies to holding a note for breathless stretches and experiments with sounds that draw simultaneously from folk and R&B. The performance she put on at Gamli Gaukurinn last night was Harpa-worthy, so seeing her in a bar/club made it feel like we were getting away with something special.

Those poor boys in Tilbury got me as their reviewer twice! In my first review of their performance at Gamla Bíó, I confessed that I couldn’t think of any comparable band. I think these guys are great indie pop – maybe a groovier, less mellow Shins – but even that doesn’t feel totally right. I sought the perspective of my Danish cohort Freddi Bang, who mostly made comments on the Zen balance of facial hair in the band, so as far as trying to reproduce in writing what I heard sonically, it’s not going well. I leave you with this music video for their song Tenderloin, which bears no relation to the song’s lyrics. Maybe they’re having as much trouble as I am conveying what Tilbury is outside of simply listening to them. Their music is sweet, it plays nice.

The last performance of the night was Moses Hightower, one of those genre bending Icelandic bands trying their hands at soul music. I think they do it magnificently. It’s cheesy lyrically from what Bang translated for me and from song titles like “Búum til börn” (“Let’s make babies”) but I love their sound. It’s soul and funk in a way I’ve never heard before and unlike Icelandic musicians that may get flak for making boring rap or uninventive reggae, Moses Hightower are actually producing a fresh take on soul. It’s certainly poppier and almost jazzier than what I hear in traditional soul music, and that’s fantastic, it’s not simply mimicry, a common criticism of those Icelanders making music not inherent to Nordic or Western European culture. I’m predisposed to a love of soul, my very first vinyl record was James Brown’s “Sex Machine” and I like to think the Godfather himself would have been keen on seeing this band perform – even in the sweaty human hot box of Gamli Gaukurinn while the party was coming to an end.

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