Category Archives: Iceland

Worm is Green

Worm+Is+GreenI love Iceland. They really do have the best music, I don’t know how they do it. Worm is Green was started by Arni Asgeirsson in his basement in his hometown of Akranes. He soon enlisted longtime friends to help with his electronica project, and the result was this magic. I’ve read that these friends are always focused on their passion project, even one time in Asgeirsson’s grandfather’s jewelry shop, where the Icelandic stones became the source of inspiration: he recorded them rubbing together and it became a beat.

The bands first album, Automagic, released in 2002, has been critically praised throughout Europe, and it’s easy to see why. The album is very haunting, from the ethereal vocals of Gudridur Ringsted, to the amazing rhythm sections, the album has a totally chill vibe, it has that incredible ability to paint landscapes that seems to be common in so much Icelandic music. And it has these incredible electronic beats, which somehow enhance the ambient quality of the music. One can easily get lost in it. They have released to other albums that I know of to date: Push Play (2005), and Glow (2009), of which I only have the previous.

Sadly I couldn’t find much more about them anywhere, but they do have a website, so check it out: Worm Is Green


Sigur Rós – Valtari

I was so excited to learn that one of my favourite Icelandic bands, Sigur Rós, had recently released  new album! And I couldn’t believe that I didn’t hear about it sooner! The fact that I haven’t talked about them sooner is even more offensive! Sigur Rós started making music in the early-mid nineties. They have a minimalist/ethereal sound that is truly incredible. It is very easy to get completely lost when their music envelops you. They also have a lot of classical influence in their sound. The lead singer, Jónsi Birgisson, has a spine-tingly falsetto voice that is perfect for their music. His voice is one of the most recognizable features in their songs, as well as musical techniques like the bowed guitar. When I first saw a video of them playing bowed guitar, I immediately had to whip out my cello bow and my guitar – magic!

The band’s international success came with the release of their second album, Ágætis byrjun, in 1999. Critics hailed the albums as one of the greats of its time. Songs from the album found their way into a lot of media, including the film Vanilla Sky and TV show Queer As Folk.  Jónsi’s signature style of vibrato bowing on his guitar started to become a defining feature for their music. In 2002, the band released one of my favourite albums, ( ). Upon its release, all of the tracks and album itself were untitled, but they later gave them titles on their website. All of the lyrics on the album are sung in “Volenska” – also called “Hopelandic” – which is a completely artificial language made up of Icelandic phonemes. As a linguist/music theorist, this is something that I find incredibly fascinating!

Their fourth album, Takk… (“Thanks…”) goes back to the distinctive sound of their second album in a more rock oriented structure with greater use of the guitar, and was released in September 2005. “Hoppípolla” (“Puddle jumping”), the second official single from Takk…, was released in November alongside a new studio remake of “Hafsól”  (Sun”), a song that was previously released on the band’s 1997 debut, Von. “Hoppípolla” was used in the trailers for the BBC’s natural history series Planet Earth in 2006, as well as the closing credits for the 2006 FA Cup final, ITV’s coverage of the 2006 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, advertisements for the BBC’s coverage of England games during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, on television advertisements for RTÉ’s Gaelic games coverage in Ireland, and on an advertisement for Oxfam. It was also used in the final scene of the movie Penelope, for the trailer of the film Children of Men and for the trailer of the film Slumdog Millionaire.  This song is also used in the trailer for the Disney movie Earth. This is another one of my favourite albums.

I completely missed the release of their fifth album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (“With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly”) in 2008 and must immediately remedy this. Stylistically different from their earlier releases, it featured fewer strings and more guitar, and had more pop-oriented songs, described as “the group’s most accessible effort” while maintaining the “majestic beauty that defines the band’s music.” Fun fact: the final track “All Alright” is the band’s first to be sung in English, though all the other lyrics are in Icelandic.

And that brings us toValtari. Bassist Georg Hólm described the album as having “more electronic stuff than before” but not being “a dance album”. I loved it right away. It has exactly the sound I’ve come to expect from the group, while being fresh at the same time. There’s really no other way to describe it as simply beautiful, haunting, and yet optimistic. Sigur Rós have given a dozen film makers the same budget and asked them to create whatever comes in to their head when they listen to songs from the band’s forthcoming album. The idea is to abandon the usual approval process from Sigur Rós, and allow film makers utmost creative freedom. The band has stated: “We never meant our music to come with a pre-programmed emotional response. We don’t want to tell anyone how to feel and what to take from it. With the films, we have literally no idea what the directors are going to come back with. None of them know what the others are doing, so hopefully it could be interesting”.

On 21 May, Sigur Rós released a video for the track “Ég Anda”, which is filmed by Ragnar Kjartansson. It is the first video from the Valtari mystery film experiment. The video shows how we should proceed if someone starts to choke.

On 6 June, Sigur Rós released a video for the track “Varúð”, which is filmed by Inga Birgisdóttir, who is the Valtari cover designer and the director of Ekki Múkk music video. It’s the second video from the Valtari mystery film experiment.  The video for  “Fjögur píanó” has sparked great controversy for having a brief bit of male genitalia – that of Shia Labeouf – especially as concerns Youtube’s nudity policies. I for one will never understand why America is so afraid of penis, but I digress… anyway the video is actually incredible.

Check out their website: Sigur Rós.  Fun fact, I was looking at their website while posting this and turns out they are in the States in July! Just bought tickets! Weekend in Philidelphia – here I come! ^___^ So excited!!!


Björk – Homogenic

I was in the car listening to this album today and thinking about how absolutely incredible it is. I would without a doubt have to say this is one of my top 5 favourite albums of all time. Björk is one of my favourite artists ever, and books could be written on her genius, her music, and her career (in fact there are several! This is one I’ve been dying to get, the first real book that is focused on the music itself:  Björk) But for now I choose to focus on the brilliance and musical experience that is Homogenic.

Homogenic is  Björk’s fourth studio album, released in September 1997. The album marked a change in her music’s style, a more trip-hop/electronica sound with acoustic stringed instruments. Before we even begin to talk about the album, we must talk about the album cover:  themes of the album are reflected in the album cover designed by Alexander McQueen. Björk had approached McQueen explaining to him the person who wrote Homogenic‘s songs was someone who “had to become a warrior. A warrior who had to fight not with weapons, but with love. I had 10 kilos of hair on my head, and special contact lenses and a manicure that prevented me from eating with my fingers, and gaffer tape around my waist and high clogs so I couldn’t walk easily”. Grant Scott says, “It’s an amazing composition: every element balances; every line leads where it should, all framing an enigmatic face, staring into your eyes through artificially-wide pupils”, about the cover taken by photographer Nick Knight. I have seen Homogenic‘s cover praised highly in many photo magazine articles as well, and is always high on any list of “best album covers”.

Now on to the music! The music of Homogenic is simply cosmic. From start to finish the album is a work of genius. The beats are raw, the sound worlds created by Björk are – to quote the album’s “Jóga” – ’emotional landscapes’ that could only come from Iceland, and only from  Björk. “Jóga”, the second track on the album, is one of my favourite, and one of 5 singles to come from the album. Written with Icelandic poet Sjón, because  Björk wanted to have “epic” lyrics – and this is without doubt achieved. The song is so emotional, so entrancing. I must share a video of PS22 chorus singing this:

I cried when I first saw this. Firstly, there needs to be more music educators like this man. These kids are feeling this song, and singing it with emotions which I never thought possible in children of their ages. The most amazing part is some of their faces as they sing, and how the song can inspire then to feel such musical passion.

“Bachelorette” is without doubt my favourite song on the album, and one of my absolute favourite songs of all time. Sometimes I listen to it over and over. The lyrics are simply incredible. Just an amazing piece of poetry. The heavy beat throughout the song is something that moves me. It is hypnotic. I can’t help but drift away into another world of music ecstasy when I listen. I can’t even put into words how much I love this song. And the video is another brilliant piece of art. Funny story: when listening to this one evening with a bunch of friends, a good friend and I both envisioned this music playing behind the orgy seen of the Penthouse movie Caligula. (X-rated so I won’t post a vid!) but for those who are curious, hunt down a clip of that scene and play this song with it. It’s uncanny.

“Alarm Call”, the album’s 8th track, contains one of my favourite stanzas in all music lyric history: “I want to go on a mountain-top /With a radio and good batteries/And play a joyous tune and/Free the human race/From suffering”. Something about that just speaks truth. The song of course is amazing and it has another amazing video. The remix for the video is different from the video, and I prefer the original on the album, but they are both great!

Now you cannot talk about his album, or  Björk’s videos and not mention “All is Full of Love”. The song is ambient bliss. It completely envelops you. The electronic sounds and flow are painfully sensual. The video is one of the greatest videos of all time. As a piece of art it is on permanent display in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Incredible. The video is just as sensual as the song. This is a video that everyone must watch at least once in their lives. The remix for the video is for me much preferred to the album’s, the one remix I wish had been on the album instead! I once watched this video at least ten times with my good friend Monique, overwhelmed by it’s pure sensuality.

Homogenic has been hailed as critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine calls it “if not the greatest electronic album of all time, it’s certainly the greatest of its decade”.

Ólafur Arnalds

Ólafur Arnalds is from Iceland. For a time Arnalds was a drummer for hardcore/metal bands Fighting Shit and Celestine, as well as several others. He has released 2 albums and 3 EPs since 2007. Arnalds music reflects in many ways the Icelandic landscapes: minimalist, mellow, scarce, yet absolutely beautiful and organic. His music uses a lot of piano and strings as well as loops and great beats and it is amazing how fluidly the songs can switch from classical to contemporary.

His album Eulogy for Evolution is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. The entire album fits together really as one cohesive piece. It is very mellow and uses a lot of piano and strings. On the album’s sixth track, mid-song, suddenly a driving force of guitar and rhythm comes in and drives the until now mellow ambiance into something really wonderful. The seventh track has what sounds like some kind of violin caprice with some subtle piano, which in track eight suddenly goes wild with drums and electric guitar before finally become an organ elegy.

His videos are also just incredible pieces of art. Check out his website:  Ólafur Arnalds. There is a lot of great multimedia including live tour footage and even a documentary about his music. He also has a video diary! A definite must-see website!

Screaming Masterpiece

Iceland. I cannot even express is words the wonders of the incredibly rich music scene that has come out of Iceland. Years ago I stumbled upon a documentary that I had been meaning to get forever, and I finally have: Screaming Masterpiece. If you enjoy anything from Iceland this DVD is a must-have. It was produced in 2005 and directed and written by Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon. It attempts to explain why Iceland has such an incredible diversity and vast output in the music world. A lot of the DVD is bits of performances from many bands, including several of my favourite Icelandic groups (which are sure to be posted soon!). Icelandic music is really at the forefront I feel of electronic-rock and -pop music. Minimalism thrives (as the documentary comments because of their surrounding landscapes). Icelandic groups also are not afraid of non-traditional and experimental instrumentation which often creates sounds that are distinctly unique. If you begin to explore the music of this country you will undoubtedly find a plethora of talent that will blow your mind. It is a source of true inspiration and insight.