Iceland might only have a population of 318,000 but the number of inhabitants on this oddly-shaped Nordic island is constantly growing. Iceland’s artistic output is also expanding. The cliché goes something like this: Iceland is a small nation and therefore constantly striving to prove itself to the outside world. So far its countrymen and women have conquered many facets of society and culture with Oscar nominations, a Nobel Prize, Olympic medals, the first female president and eh, strong men and beautiful women. As for music, Iceland has Björk and Sigur Rós. The end. Right? No sir.
The Icelandic music scene is like a melodic smörgåsbord and stirs like an anthill with music being made in every corner, nook and cranny. The annual Iceland Airwaves Festival is perhaps the most obvious testament to this and a great sampler plate of the myriad bands sprouting in Iceland each year.
But who really cares about what happens on some large rock formation somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean? I double dare you to read on and take the time to listen. So flex your ears and open your mind to the warm sounds of Iceland. Most of these bands sing in English, but don’t let that fool you. This is pure Icelandica.
Bluesy folk singer Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir aka Lay Low made her debut in 2006 with the acclaimed album Please Don’t Hate Me. The first single from the album became an instant hit in Iceland and her repertoire, both as a singer and an actress, has been building fast ever since. Lovísa also co-fronts progressive rock band Benny Crespo’s Gang.
Lay Low’s second album was released in 2008, titled Farewell Good Night’s Sleep to positive reviews and international curiousity.
Then there is Lara, a bright young starlet who has collaborated with Damien Rice and Glen Hansard and been hailed as the latest pop sensation by Q Magazine and Emiliana Torrini, who has been doing great things with her latest album Me and Armini, which includes chart topper ‘Jungle Drum’.
múm are Iceland’s good-time gang, their blissful tunes giving off a feeling of a collective hug. This experimental group has been on the scene since 1997 with the member line-up going through numerous changes since then. With four albums under their brightly coloured belts, múm have a devoted fan base all over the world and continue to spread love wherever they go.
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Ólöf Arnalds, a sometime member of múm, debuted her solo album Við og Við in 2007 and released her second album Innundir Skinni last September, which includes a duet with Björk on the song ‘Surrender’. This is some truly beautiful stuff.
Ólöf is not to be confused with her neo-classical male name counterpart Ólafur Arnalds:
And if you’re wondering what’s happening in classical music in Iceland, check out Daníel Bjarnason, who’s bringing the genre into a new era.
Indie-folk group Seabear began as the solo project of Sindri Már Sigfússon, but now performs as a band of six members. Some of their tunes have been heard playing on some high profile TV show, which we’ll keep unnamed. OK, it was Grey’s Anatomy.
Seabear’s front man, who has been compared to Beck, still gets to perform solo with his side project Sin Fang Bous.
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FM Belfast are a four-piece electro dance/pop group whose members seem to come and go as they please, making use of themselves in many different bands at the same time, something which seems to be the norm with many Icelandic bands. A lot can be learned about the art of sharing when exploring the Icelandic music scene. FM Belfast’s album How To Make Friends was released in 2008 and offers many ways to dance.
‘Underwear’ (music video):
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Amiina are a mostly female quartet who combines elements of experimental classical music and electronica. They’ve frequently collaborated with Sigur Rós in the past, both on stage and in the studio, making a name for themselves with international praise for their unique style and haunting melodies.
‘Over and Again’ from Amiina’s latest album Puzzle:
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It’s hard to put a tag on Hjaltalín’s music with its forever fluctuating style. Their latest album Terminal listens like a soundtrack for some elaborate epic film of the future with classical elements as well as 60’s style pop references.
‘Suitcase Man’ (live performance):
Klive is a one-man act fronted by Úlfur Hansson, whose experimental debut album Sweaty Psalms was released to rave reviews in 2008. Multi-talented Úlfur also plays bass guitar for neo-metal band Swords of Chaos as well being as a member of Jónsi‘s touring band.
On Sweaty Psalms, Klive teamed up with songstress Rósa Birgitta Ísfeld who fronts dream-pop duo Feldberg as well as singing vocals for electro pop group Sometime. Their collaboration resulted in the song ‘Common Wealth’, a feast for the senses.
Be sure to also check out Sometime’s single ‘Optimal Ending’ on their MySpace page.
Last but not least, stop and smell these roses in this maze of sensual delight:
‘Sharpen the Knife’: