Best Icelandic Albums of 2013

It’s the end of the year. I like lists. There is only one logical conclusion. Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?

What follows, then, is my end of year list of Icelandic albums. It’s not based on anything but my taste in music, and the albums released over the past year(ish!) by Icelandic artists. I make no apologies if you don’t agree with my choices. Please make sure I know about it though; I love all the ‘it’s a travesty’ and ‘where the bloody hell is’ type correspondence!

Samaris – Samaris
Sounding like an Icelandic Portishead, Samaris are gaining momentum. Using clever electronics, Icelandic poetry and an often surprising clarinet, Samaris are going places. Standout track for me is Góða tungl. Its definitely a late night song, all trip-hop beats and gentle vocals.

Sigur Rós – Kveikur
I think Kveikur is a triumph. It sounds like a band having fun for a change, and that comes through. Kveikur feels alive. It could be argued that the album was written with a live set in mind, but I don’t much care. This is the sound of Sigur Rós at their most vital in a long time. Turn it up loud and rejoice in the return of Sigur Rós as a band.

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©Nanna Dís

ÍRiS – Penumbra
‘This Morning’ starts things off with its piano and strings, and ends with a surprising fuzz of feedback. ‘Daybreak’ has definite jazz leanings and cocky piano to prove it, whereas ‘Sea Song’ might just be the standout track. It has beautiful, urgent piano and makes you have goosebumps. The whole thing is a showcase for ÍRIS’s sultry, elegant voice. Goosebumps is a strange word, isn’t it?

Lay Low – Talking About The Weather
A late entry, this. The album opens with the eponymous ‘Talking about the Weather’; a slinky, sexy song, banishing all previous accusations of Lay Low being just another acoustic singer/songwriter. Other tracks have a deep south feel to them, replete with twanging guitars. ‘I Don’t Mind’ is soft and soulful and must have sounded wonderful a her recent concert at Fríkirkjan, as the wind hurried around the old church, pushing the snow against the windows. Maybe this album is about the weather after all.

Snorri Helgason – Autumn Skies
Overall, Autumn Skies is a melancholic, gentle affair, that sometimes lacks the immediacy of its predecessor, Winter Sun. It’s a delight though, and is suitably titled—it does have the feeling of summer bleeding away into autumn. I think it’s probably best consumed with a hot chocolate whilst watching the leaves turn from green to red.

Múm – Smilewound
Smilewound is a delight, and stands up well to repeated plays; the electronic beeps and squeaks seems to reveal more with each listen. I hate to say it, but it sounds infinitely Icelandic. I can imagine it being played by coffee shops all over Reykjavík, on repeat.

Ólafur Arnalds – For Now I Am Winter
For Now I Am Winter is a delicious piece of work. The strings, as ever, are lush and bountiful, and especially on ‘Brim.’ The electronics are also present, bringing a futuristic component to pieces, which can either be sublime or intentionally jarring. A vocalist, Árnor Dan, has been added to the mix. All the components that serve to make Ólafur Arnalds’ music so unique are present and correct.

Pascal Pinon – Twosomeness
These two sisters from Iceland have delivered fantastic album back in January which is full of quirky little tunes that burrow into your head. In a good way. Jófríður voice is extraordinary; sweet, soft and yet full of character. By the time they are singing the delicious ‘Bloom’, now replete with flute solo and that lovely ‘oh,oh,oh’ refrain, my heart has melted.

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Amiina – The Lighthouse Project
Amiina have managed to capture the essence of their magical live shows in The Lighthouse Project. I don’t know how I managed to miss Amiina performing in a lighthouse, during an Icelandic summer, whilst arctic terns wheel outside, and oystercatchers pace the grass. Damn. I would love to have been there, for one of those special performances. Never mind, The Lighthouse Project is the perfect souvenir to remind me just what I missed.

Ásgeir – In The Silence
It could be argued that this should be in the 2014 list, but Ásgeir has produced a wonderful little album here. I suppose it might be pigeonholed ‘folktronica,’ and invite comparisons with Bon Iver, or Jóse González, or even James Vincent McMorrow, but it has something else too. Everything sounds perfectly balanced, and has layering that neatly wraps around Ásgeir’s vocals. Yes, it’s gentle, softly beautiful stuff, but Ásgeir sings his falsetto with such emotion that it sounds personal, like a love letter written just to you.

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