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If it’s the frozen, outer space soundscapes of Sigur Rós that floats your soul, it can seem like your only hope is a genre of one. But as Yoda said, “No, there is another.” Also hailing from Iceland, also active since the late ‘90s, and equally bizarre, múm use electronics embellished by ethereal, child-like vocals that make Jónsi’s falsetto sound like a baritone to provide the same experimental, atmospheric trip. Of course, most fans of Sigur Rós are probably already familiar with múm. But in case you’ve somehow missed them, former member Ólöf Arnalds did a very nice history/interview in the Grapevine.
With their new album, Smilewound, múm present a slightly more accessible side of themselves.
I am obsessed with Artificial Daylight, the second album from the independent Icelandic folk-pop band 1860. Far from a sophomore slump, Artificial Daylight draws inspiration from the same well as Fleet Foxes and the Waterboys, hitting the sweet spot between artsy-fartsy indie and totally accessible pop.
When I talked to them last year, the boys in 1860 were still chafing at a reviewer’s classification of their debut album, Sagan, as “mom-friendly pop,” and promised the follow-up album would be “dad-friendly.” With Artificial Daylight they have indeed delivered a more aggressive sound – thicker production, demanding drums, and guitar leads that have largely supplanted Sagan’s mandolin.
The sound has advanced from echoes of the thirties to a more seventies vibe, with chewy, funky bass lines (the one in “Socialite” is a high point) and proggy-sounding guitars scattered throughout. The period detail on “Blue Ease” is so convincing it makes swallowing blue pills and slipping into a hot tub with naked strangers start to seem like a good idea.
It’s simply amazing to me that a group from the drizzly grey of Glasgow could consistently creates such effervescent, make-you-want-to-sing-along head-bopping pop music -- but that's exactly what Camera Obscura does time and again. Their fifth album, Desire Lines, is a stunningly bright ray of musical sunshine.
This latest release is grounded in beach music and the classic sounds of 50’s rock. Not that lead singer Traceyanne Campbell channels The Ronettes or anything, but the influences are subtly present. Absent are the soaring horn runs and orchestration of past hits like “French Navy,” replaced rather by soft-about-the-edges string melodies. Campbell’s voice is the real star of the record, wonderfully supported by subdued instrumentation. Her range is amazing, dreamily lilting into the atmosphere on “This is Love (Feels Alright)” and then breaking like delicate china teacups on “Every Weekday.”
The addition of Neko Case (!!) on backing vocals lends perfect symmetry to the feel of the record, even sounding very similar to something she could have created herself. Case’s and Campbell’s voices blend in such tummy-warming harmony, maybe we can look forward to further collaborations in the future? I can only dream.
Maybe you’ve noticed that Iceland is having a moment? Between volcanic eruptions on the news, nonstop flights between Seattle and Reykjavík advertised on the side of every bus downtown, and oodles of on-air love from KEXP, it seems like Iceland is in the spotlight wherever you turn. The attention is well deserved; despite housing a population about half the size of Seattle, Iceland boasts a quality music scene as diverse as our own. But if you didn’t win KEXP’s Iceland Fly-Away contest to attend the Airwaves festival in Reykjavík, how can you find all that deserving music?
Iceland Music Export has your back. Each year, IMX puts out a compilation CD highlighting tracks from some of Iceland’s hottest new albums you never heard of. Bands like Of Monsters and Men already spend more time abroad than at home in Iceland; the IMX Made in Iceland VI compilation introduces you to what’s next.
A few highlights are worthy of everyone’s attention. Government official by day, mad genius rapper by night, former Sugarcubes member Einar Örn contributes the track “Dreamland” by his project Ghostigital. KEXP favorite Ólafur Arnalds will be playing Decibel Festival here in Seattle in September. Prepare for that show by listening to “Old Skin.” Because Agent Fresco’s Arnór Dan is one of the most moving singers alive, the Pascal Pinon track “When I Can’t Sleep” featuring his guest vocals is required listening.
The self-titled debut from Chicago, Illinois, duo Hobbyist is a knock out-passionate post-punky protest against all the societal gears that grind women (and men) down every day in work, religion, home, health, life and death. Holly Prindle (vocals) and Marc Mozga (vocals, drum machine programming, guitars, bass, melodica) angle their arch, sample-fueled, dubby rant-stomps as musical sabotage to the factory of fear called Modern America. In a world where sacramental wine becomes after hours buzz against pain, and the thin girl playing the fat girl wins the awards, it's all about clinging to each other and hearing each others' beating hearts.
The two used to be I Luv Luv Birds, but I've never heard the self-released albums they put out under that name. I wonder if they've always been as good as blending their female-male short story narratives in sweet and sour sing-song, owning these stories of life across the wrong side of the tracks, against the "kamikaze heroes and nazi fucks," capturing the essences of whole lives in a couple of shattering lines. This collection of songs are based around a "verite-type film" that Mozga has been working on about a family with an autistic child. None of it sounds anything less than powerful, but seductive, well played and produced, delivering the anthemic goods without any sonic slush to keep from connecting. Holly's voice warmly reminds me of everyone from Poison Girls' Vi Subversa (!!) to Ari Up to PJ Harvey -- without acing in on any of 'em. It's all hers. "Goddamn soulless lies, get back under your rock and hide" she sings, and she has the vocal strength to make it sound liex a very real hex on what vexes her deeply.