The music world occasionally strays into unchartered waters seeking new talent from time to time. Suddenly there is a slew of Scandinavian bands filling the charts with a smorgasbord of pop tunes. Next week it”s the turn of the French and their cheeky gallic retro-pop musique. Commercially, for a long time it seemed as though Iceland’s time came and went with one band – The Sugarcubes, and their one quirky singer Bjork.
But lurking in the shadows of all things kooky were arty nearly-weres Gus Gus (whose clever dance pop was never going to trouble the upper reaches of the charts). Hafdis Huld was one of their singers and is similarly blessed with crystalline vocal pipes that make out like a Burt Bacharach / Dolly Parton soundclash for the 21st century but is all the more approachable for her frankness and her pop sensibility.
Are you ready for some more quirky lo-fi Icelandic femme folktronica? You should be, despite the less than enticing album title or her mouthful of a moniker. Like the soundtrack to some hip indie film, this album doesn’t shout, scream or push for your attention. Creeping in with the hush, strum and sigh of organic instrumentation and the odd splash of electronics these are tunes that intrigue, entice and beguile with the brush of the artist not the brashness of the arsehole.
As debut albums go Hafdis has some high profile friends co-writing in Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys producer) and a Sneaker Pimp amongst others. Between them they serve up a hook-laden journey chock-full of quirky twisted pop bursting with sweet melodies disguising dark lyrical intentions. It is in this vein that the only cover, of Lou Reed‘s Who Loves The Sun, is a sunny seaside trip that wouldn”t sound out of place on a Nouvelle Vague album.
The skeletal blues twang of opener Ski Jumper, the acoustic deathwish lyrics of “I hope you choke on your Plastic Halo” call into the focus the wry wit and tongue in cheek charms that sets this apart from her angst-ridden contemporaries. Sticking firmly to the “quiet is the new loud” suits these hushed, dreamy tales ease into your head like rays of sunshine over a range of settings that are unashamedly smart, upbeat and rather special. The spoken-word bliss of Happily Ever After makes a perfectly happy innocent buzz of a chance meeting bursting with optimism that kicks James Blunt‘s Beautiful into the contrived ball of (w)angst it is.
Tomoko comes on like a primary-coloured bitchfest set to cartoon beats and the sweetest cooing delivery. Only on the Icelandic closer Sumri Hallar and the wryly titled Celebration does the mood shift into uneasy twilight mood that calls to mind queen spook Beth Gibbons‘ solo material. Sounding in places like a more rustic Saint Etienne or perhaps Lily Allen‘s elder, classier sister Hafdis knows her vocal limitations and plays to her strengths.
Behind the wide-eyed innocence, childlike imagination and pop sensibility there is an unmistakable sense of joy on these recordings that rolls along without tipping over into the jarringly saccharine. If Iceland can keep serving up gems like this one every few years it may be reason enough alone to emigrate.