I am not the most organized of people, as i will freely admit. Take this disc for example. Back in July, just after i had moved into my new home, i received a promo package from the UK. It contained a few CDs and some 7" records from a couple of different labels. I filed the 7"s on one shelf, and the CDs went into the general "to review" stack.
Imagine my surprise when, in January 2008, i was looking through the 7"s,
spending a chilly January evening sitting in front of the stereo with a cat
in my lap and a nice hot cup of chamomile, spinning 7"s, when i came across
this CD. It had been stuck in the plastic bag containing two of the singles,
and i honestly had no idea it was there until recently.
That's a shame, because there is some pretty lovely music on this CD. Stafrćnn Hákon is the project of one Ólafur Josephsson, an Icelander. I reviewed a
split 7" he did a while back, and i guess the UK promo people sent me this to see what i would think of a whole album. I compared the one song i had heard by Hákon to Sigur
Ros, but was ashamed to so easily lump all Icelanders into one category of delicate, vaguely orchestral post-rock. Well, listening to this CD reminds me a lot of Sigur Ros, with a little Radiohead thrown in at certain times, so maybe all Icelanders are making similar music these days! Who knows?
Anyway, so, yes, this is a record of sparsely recorded post-rock, with long drawn out guitar bits, droning organ, tinkling percussion, strummed strings (is that a harp?), and emotive wordless singing that draws out the notes. If you like what Sigur Ros is doing, then this will appeal to you. I think that Stafrćnn Hákon do this as well as anyone, and in fact make my favorite song in this genre, which i am dubbing The Icelandic Post-Rock Conspiracy.
The song in question is Hausi, and here the voice sounds different than on all of the other Icelandic Post-Rock Conspiracy tunes. The first thing you notice is that it sounds almost as if Josephsson was recorded then slowed down, lowering the timbre just a bit. The vocals are very slow, but i freely admit that this could be a stylistic choice. The important difference is that he is singing, in English, plainly, slowly, and beautifully. The words actually add a heaping dose of interest. He's no Karl Hendricks, but Josephsson's words do well enough. This addition, coupled with the flowing music that Icelanders do so well, makes this song really stand out. In a genre where no one sings words, the wordless song is imparted with extra depth of meaning. I like it.
Also of note is Veggur, which is normal for this genre, but exceedingly well done. The percussion here tinkles along delicately, with long slow wordless vocals. Josephsson's voice is used here to great effect, exactly like the voice in Sigur Ros. Combined with Hákon droning guitars, the overall effect creates a chilly, echoing expanse of sound. And that is what resonates me most about The Icelandic Post-Rock Conspiracy bands: the music defines large, wide open spaces. The production allows plenty of room for each instrument to resonate, and the long, drawn out notes and wordless vocals seem to echo forever.
Overall, while Stafrćnn Hákon aren't breaking any new boundaries (except, maybe, by using actual lyrics!), this is still well done. Now i wonder if there are any other treasures hidden among the stacks of promos and records...