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Five Albums You Should Be Listening to Right Now: Icelandic Edition
In honor of Bjork’s new album, we travel to Iceland for this week’s Five Albums.
By Steinþór Helgi Arnsteinsson
Every week, titans of the mediasphere give Nerve their music recommendations. This week: Steinþór Helgi Arnsteinsson, label representative, concert promoter and manager of Hjaltalín. Steinþór also serves as musical program director for the Reykjavík Fashion Festival, and an advisor for Iceland Airwaves.
1. Snorri Helgason, Winter Sun
Snorri Helgason has has really delivered on the promise he demonstrated with his former band, Sprengjuhöllin. His second solo album, Winter Sun, is a beautiful, addictive fusion of folk melodies and percussion that covers quite a lot of ground but maintains an extremely soothing atmosphere that never threatens to become background music. The opening track, "River," opens with strange female vocals, then moves into a familiar-sounding descending chord progression that echoes the lyrics ("We're going down, down, down the river"), before subtly blooming at the end as all the elements coalesce. Timeless yet creative.
2. GusGus, Arabian Horse
One of, if not the best, pop groups ever to be born and raised in Iceland. This is GusGus' sixth studio album and probably their biggest hit to date in Iceland. This album is epic — lush but demanding, while still maintaining a great pop sensibility. A large part of GusGus’ charm is their sense of dependability — they've always delivered solid records, and Arabian Horse is another offering of catchy bass lines, soaring string arrangements, and outstanding vocals.
Listen: "Within You"
3. Kimono, Easy Music For Difficult People
I've always enjoyed indie guitar rock, and I remember how Kimono guided me down this path when I was just a teenager living in the suburbs, something for which I will be forever grateful. Kimono have matured since then, becoming tighter and cooler by not trying so hard anymore (kind of like me). This album, released in late 2009, is at times almost too intense, with fierce guitars and vigorous drumming. The music is unpredictable and layered — the climax of "Kente" is one of the most pleasant since the electric guitar was first imported to Iceland.
4. Rúnk, Ghengi Dahls
An extremely important album, even ten years after its release. Rúnk is made up of people who have all gone on to be pillars of the Icelandic scene since, including members of Jónsi (Sigur Ros)’s band and múm. Though Ghengi Dahls didn’t set standards like Ágætis Byrjun did, it's definitely as inspiring, albeit in a different way. The joy and creativity found on the album and the power behind the personalities in Rúnk (which literally translates to “jerking off”) energized the small but vibrant music scene in Reykjavík, where the band’s legacy lives on.
Listen: "Atlavík '84"
5. Retro Stefson, Kimbabwe
Given that this seven-piece outfit consists of people that have all recently passed the age of twenty (excepting one member) and that this is their second album, calling them rising stars in the Icelandic music scene is something of an understatement. They just signed to Universal in Germany, so presumably, there are others that agree. But the proof isn’t in their business deals: it’s in their talent, musicality, and fanciful hooks. Kimbabwe is above all exuberant, despite featuring all manner of (sometimes weird) influences. It’s unique, danceable, and has been known to make me want to jump around the room wildly.