A Taste of Iceland
A Sonic Trip to the Tiny Country With a Big Music Scene
As mentioned in the last newsletter, Elke and I spent a few days in Germany. We flew there via Reykjavík with Icelandair, which was generally a pleasant experience. While layovers add stress and uncertainty, getting out of the plane around halfway is nice. Also, Icelandair has it all down after doing this for decades: there’s barely time for a bathroom break before the connecting flight boards.
Consequently, we did not see much of the country, but we have been there three times for the Airwaves festival but never left Iceland’s charming capital Reykjavík. Next time, we may take Icelandair up on their offer to allow a few days on the island between the flights and at least see the famous Golden Circle of natural wonders.
But while it feels a bit foolish not to experience Iceland’s breathtakingly beautiful nature when you visit, the incredibly diverse music scene reflects the country and its people very well.
That’s why we’re looking forward to May for the Taste of Iceland event in New York, including a showcase at Pianos. We also curated a Spotify and YouTube playlist with our favorite Icelandic artists to enjoy. And no, neither Björk, Sigur Rós, nor Of Monsters And Men are on it.
Listen to the playlist on YouTube or on Spotify below:
Find more information and links to the artists and the end of the newsletter.
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Song Pick of the Day
Listen to/watch all seven songs on YouTube. Follow our daily updated playlists on YouTube and Spotify for the 50 latest Song Picks of the Day.
Avalon Emerson is a DJ and producer who plays dance music festivals. The more surprising is her new album & The Charm because it is full of shimmering, chill pop songs. I particularly love Avalon’s crystalline vocals hovering over the bubbling synths.
Close your eyes and see big stage lights flashing when you listen to “Here And Now.” Liverpool singer and guitarist Slye goes all out on a big production that takes cues from 80s synth-rock of bands like Saga.
Welsh singer/songwriter Gillie created a beautifully complex yet catchy song, “Llawn,” in her native language. And she threw in some Warpaint-y guitars, which makes the track indeed a winner in my ears. Gillie says about the song: “‘Llawn’ centres around the feeling of your life-changing due to external factors/other people’s control over decisions, and finding a safe place for yourself within this.”
The “Doug” of “dough song” is actually a dog who unexpectedly initiated a therapy session for Arts Fishing Club singer Christopher Kessenich about making music in Nashville. For the entire story, listen to the song or read the article, but be assured he is not giving up: “I’m going to continue to take the risk of loving and do the best I can,” he says.
Also from Nashville hails Hana McCartney, who goes firmly on the dark side with her debut album Rust and Stardust. “The idea of each song having a drug reference or innuendo was already in my mind when I started writing this album,” she says, and the single “Dope” obviously hits the mark. But I like that musically, she keeps a healthy distance from her topic and does not draw the listener into an abyss.
Amelie Blake is not new to making music: under her real name, she composes for film and TV. However, with “Hunter’s Game,” she branches out into pop music. “The concept is about the hunter and the prey, and the song explores both the yin and yang, masculine and feminine, wanting to chase yet be chased,” she says. There will be more music from her this year, and it will be terrific.
“Jerusalem” is said to be one of the best plays of all time, which – honestly – does not become clear from its Wikipedia synopsis. But London synth-pop musician Circe saw it twice, which changed her life. It also inspired her to write a gorgeous song, “Riot of Sunlight,” over the course of 10 years.
Albums of the Week
Listen to new music from Ava Vegas, Avalon Emerson, Dead Leaf Echo, JFDR, Nabihah Iqbal, and Tina Boonstra.
Nine Photos from Reykjavik, Iceland
Between Mountains did not release new music since 2019, but their 2017 breakout hit “Into The Dark” – recorded when they were 16 and 14 – is still a joy to listen to.
Jófríður Ákadóttir used to be in several Icelandic bands but has lately focused on her own project JFDR. Like everything she does, her new album Museum is beautiful, so give it a spin.
gugusar – real name Guðlaug Sóley Höskuldsdóttir – was kind of the inspiration for this playlist when we learned about her on the plane from Reykjavík. Her 2022 Icelandic-language album 12:48 hits the mark of eclectic, current electronic music perfectly.
Arny Marget represents the acoustic, folksy side of Icelandic music. She has released a new album that only talked about the weather in 2022.
We saw Mammút at the 2017 Taste of Iceland event, and they took our breath away. No new music since their 2017’s Kinder Version, but they’ve played recent Iceland Airwaves shows. We did a Q&A with Ása Dýradóttir.
We saw Hildur live several times in Iceland and New York. Her bright and friendly pop music and sunny personality inevitably lift your mood. Read our Q&A with Hildur here.
EinarIndra is an experimental electronic musician, but he also can do beautiful pop songs like “Dóttir,” a collaboration with Sillus. Check our Q&A.
Elín Hall and GDRN are both singer/songwriters and actors. But while Elín comes from the acoustic side, GDRN does synth-pop. For the collaboration “júpíter,” they met in the middle.
Ásgeir delights with his gorgeous falsetto vocals and impressive talent for creating mesmerizing songs. In our video playlist, find “King & Cross,” and in our Spotify playlist, “Borderland” from his brilliant 2022 album Time On My Hands.
We’re fans of CeaseTone since the fantastic debut album, “Two Strangers,” and did a Q&A with mastermind Hafsteinn Þráinsson in 2016. Read it here.
Electronic trio Vök has released three brilliant albums, and we decided on maybe their biggest hit “Erase You.” Learn more about Vök in our Q&A with Margrét Rán.
An Icelandic musician we’ve yet to see live and will keep on trying: Júníus Meyvant, who creates beautiful, soulful indie-pop. The title track from his 2019 album Across The Borders, is a perfect example.
We met brothers Markús and Birkir in 2019, who make restrained electronic music under the moniker Omotrack in 2019. For our playlist, we decided on “Way Home.”
The live show of Berndsen is one not to be missed! Listen to “Shaping the Grey” and learn more in our Q&A.
During our first few hours of Iceland Airwaves 2016, we met Josin, and became instant fans of the German electronic musician. In April 2022, multi-instrumentalist Ólafur Arnalds featured Josin and her gorgeous vocals in his “Sunrise Session.” Magnificent!
Singer, songwriter, and producer Axel Flovent also answered our 2018 Q&A, and we decided on “City Dream” for our playlist.