Every January for the past five years, Grapevine has assembled a panel to look back on the preceding year in Icelandic music and dish out the Grapevine Music Awards. The ‘Best Album’ category has often been the most hotly contested, but each year—after fiery debates, drinking competitions, arm wrestling, sword fights, and games of Twister—the judges always manage to align behind a single record that represents a creative leap for the artist and a significant contribution to the Icelandic music scene. So if you’re visiting, and want to pick up a record to take home with you, make it one of these. Or, hey, why not treat yourself to all five? And look out for Grapevine’s 2018 Music Awards next January.
2012: Hjáltalín – Enter 4
In 2013, Hjáltalín’s ‘Enter 4’ was a game-changer for the acclaimed big-band pop ensemble, led by vocalist Högni Egilsson. At the panel discussion that year, the judges couldn’t stop talking about the effect this album had on them. “It’s a masterpiece,” remarked one panel member. “The band moves away from that huge sound of their first two albums and ventures off into an adventurous exploration of melody and emotion. You don’t see a lot of Icelandic bands talking about human feelings in such an honest way.”
2013: Sin Fang – Flowers
One album stood head and shoulders above a very fine crop of Icelandic albums in 2014—’Flowers,’ by indie-pop star Sin Fang. The production values, consistency, songwriting and all-around musical enjoyment factor were all lavished with praise by that year’s panel. “Sindri Már really stepped up his career with ‘Flowers,’” they said. “His interpretation of himself through this album comes from the artwork, visuals, performances and lyrics alike, forming a complete aesthetic—Sin Fang becomes more of a cohesive package than ever. It’s a self-contained world, and an all-round pleasure to own, hold, listen to, and to see played live.”
2014: M-Band – Haust
At the 2015 awards, the best album was the work of a bright young whippersnapper M-Band. The musical outlet of one Hörður Már Bjarnason, ‘Haust’ (“Autumn”) was a debut LP that captivated anyone who came across it. “After a couple of years of development, ‘Haust’ turned out to be a beautiful and fully-formed work that incorporates both structure and spontaneity,” said the panel. “From pounding 4×4 rhythms to simmering, poetic ballads and squalls of electronic noise, ‘Haust’ is a wonderful debut led by powerful creative instincts. An instant classic.”
2015: Tonik Ensemble – Snapshots
Surprisingly enough, the 2016 Album of The Year was the easiest decision of the bunch. As soon as Tonik Ensemble’s simmering house/techno opus ‘Snapshots’ was mentioned, the panellists started raving about it, seemingly trying to one-up each other in their declarations of love. “I wish we could give Tonik Ensemble the award in every category,” one of them noted, succinctly summarizing the group’s collective feels. “But is it album of the year?” asked the moderator. “Tonik. Yes. Right on. Agreed,” everyone replied. And that was that.
2016: Samaris – Black Lights
At the panel debate back in January of this year, the title track of the dreamy electronica trio Samaris’s ‘Black Lights’ was nominated as song of the year. Then so was their first single, “Wanted 2 Say.” Then “R4vin.” Then it became clear: it’s just an all-around great album. Moving on from 2014’s ‘Silkidrangar,’ Samaris advanced to a new level. “They’ve really stepped up their sound,” one panelist said. “They’re singing in English, and Doddi’s production is fucking stunning. It’s not just a collection of singles, but something that makes sense.”
2017: Högni – Two Trains
When choosing the best album from 2017, the panel was adamant they’d select an album that was excellent in its entirety; an LP on which the whole experience could be enjoyed without disappointment. Högni’s album ‘Two Trains’ won by a good margin for being a well constructed opus that sits independently from Högni’s previous collaborations, whilst bearing the hallmarks of his career to date. Högni’s electrifying voice was first heard in the band Hjaltalín then, later, as a powerful collaborator and stage presence in techno-pop outfit GusGus. In his solo project, the scope of Högni’s talent truly shines through. ‘Two Trains’ is at once a nod to the past, with a sonorous male choir and heart-wrenching string arrangements, and a glimpse of the future, with its electronic textures.
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