“We come from a place where we count the days / Until nothing, until nothing, until nothing”. So opens the second track on FM Belfast’s debut album, the gloriously unhinged How To Make Friends. Later, in the same track, they continue their frustration: “Because nothing ever happens here / Where everyone keeps off the grass / No littering / No littering”. It’s a far cry from the image projected by Iceland as a country of great beauty, of natural wonder and with a flourishing cultural landscape. But FM Belfast don’t represent Iceland, certainly not in terms of the music they make.
How To Make Friends isn’t loaded with sweeping, sky-scraping string sections that represent the violence of nature, nor is it made of crunching beats to display the Icelandic sense of independence. Instead, it’s an album that grew by accident after founding members Arni R Hlodversson and Loa H Hjalmtysdottir made a couple of tracks for a friend for Christmas back in 2005. This idea of DIY runs throughout the album, with processed beats and what sound like toy keyboards forming the musical backbone of all 11 tracks.
The band have since expanded to a four-piece, but live their numbers can range anywhere from four to 45, with various friends (including �rvar ��reyjarson Sm�rason from compatriots m�m) joining in on percussion. It’s this sense of fun that permeates the album, from the lyrics (“We are running down the street in our underwear”) to the musical flourishes. Opener Frequency utilises a high-pitched noise akin to a life support machine, before being replaced by an elastic bassline that underpins the fantastically mundane sentiments: “Put down the glass baby / You’re the designated driver”. VHS uses skittering beats to create a wonderfully dated sound that is, of course, now very much back in favour.
The album also features two odd cover versions. The first is a slowed down, almost drawled cover of Technotronic‘s Pump Up The Jam. It’s an odd listen, as if the band have chosen to cover a version played at the wrong speed. The second is a deliciously camp re-reading of everyone’s favourite Christmas hit, Killing In The Name. Somewhere, Joe McElderry is listening to this with a massive grin on his face. Either that or he’s realised that it wouldn’t be out of the question to give the song a bit of a go himself, even if it may cause the nation’s irony-o-meter to explode.
Elsewhere, the band stick to the formula of basic beats, treated keyboard lines and the heavily accented vocals from the two leads. It’s testament to the quality of the songs that it rarely gets tired or falls flat. Par Avion is a glorious mass of hand-clap beats and a chorus that dreams of moving to the Caribbean, whilst Synthia employs a pounding, four to the floor beat and some crude keyboard stabs.
FM Belfast sound like they’ve had a ball making How To Make Friends, and thankfully their enjoyment readily transfers to the listener. Each song manages to bring a smile to your face, either with their charmingly off-centre lyrics or the sheer exuberance of their melodies. Iceland has a new favourite band, and it’s one we can all get involved with.