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.

Listen: "River"



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.

Listen: "Kente"



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.

Listen: "Kimba"


Commentarium (16 Comments)

Oct 12 11 - 3:00am

Rock on Iceland!
nice list.

Oct 12 11 - 4:34am

Cool cover art for the Winter Sun album. Also, I like the name "Snorri".

Oct 12 11 - 8:03am

So happy to see Gusgus given the spotlight. Great, great music. I guess Arabian Horse is the obvious choice here since it just came out, but also check out Polydistortion and This Is Normal if you want to see what made everyone love them in the first place.

"What about Sigur Ros?" comments begin in 3, 2, 1...

Oct 12 11 - 9:29am

Was just going to say....

Oct 12 11 - 9:47am

I'm guessing that's because they don't have a new album. (Do they?)

Oct 12 11 - 11:23am
Alex Heigl

Well, Steinþór is actually from Iceland, and I think he might have wanted to avoid the big "name" Icelandic bands -- it would have been a pretty stereotypical list to include Sigur Ros, Bjork or mum.

Oct 12 11 - 7:08pm

Concerning Sigur Ros: it's probably a mix of them not having a new album and being world-famous. Personally I'd be pretty disappointed to see them here, and I say that as a longtime fan. These are all musicians with far less exposure, and they certainly deserve the spotlight more than Sigur Ros. I mean, I'd be willing to bet everyone here will eventually/has already come across Sigur Ros without the aid of this article. They don't need the promotion.

You could make a case for Gusgus not being particularly obscure, but they tend to fly under the radar despite their popularity and are only well-known on the dance scene. More exposure can't hurt, especially since Arabian Horse hasn't exactly made waves outside of its scene.

Oct 12 11 - 11:52am

Too bad you can´t find all of them on Spotify. Really liked GusGus.

Oct 12 11 - 7:02pm

GusGus is represented nicely on iTunes and, in addition to being all over YouTube. I can't speak for Spotify or Pandora, but luckily they're a well-established band with years of history and acclaimed releases. They should be pretty easy to unearth :).

Oct 12 11 - 2:54pm

I really like Retro Stefson and Snorri-particularly Snorri.I was a little disappointed not to see sigur ros even if they are a big name band:)

Oct 12 11 - 4:22pm

OF MONSTER AND MEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Feb 08 12 - 4:21pm

can't wait for their US tour. got my tickets for NY already! pre sale sold out in less than a minute

Oct 12 11 - 4:41pm

For A Minor Reflection, Olafur Arnalds, Sykur, FM Belfast & Lay Low worth a mention too.

Oct 13 11 - 5:46pm

Snorri and the boys from Sprengjuhollin are awesome! If you ever meet them, be sure to buy them a drink.

Oct 15 11 - 4:01am
Snorri Helgason

Is the only artist worthy of listening to here. The rest are pretty pathetic, especially recently!

Oct 16 11 - 4:56pm

Oh, this is really nice. This is great music for this cloudy Sunday afternoon.