Over the course of the last decade Högni Egilsson has led a varied and musical existence. He’s been a key figure in the development of Icelandic indie-folk group Hjaltalín and also contributed to the later albums of electronic outfit Gus Gus. He has also released music composed for film, television and theatre.
So it’s no surprise to learn that Two Trains, his debut solo album for Erased Tapes, is a suitably diverse, distinct and wrong-footing piece of work. At times it feels like listening to an analogue radio as the dial is turned, picking up classical, electronic and pop stations as we go along. You never quite know where it is going to take you next.
The album title is a reference to two locomotives that were used in Reykjavik in the early part of the 20th century to help construct the city’s harbour. Once work had finished however they lay dormant and unused. In one sense Egilsson uses them at face value, a visual reminder of how the world and everything contained within changes and evolves but he also gradually came to extract personal meaning from these in comparing their life to a certain stage of his. It’s evident that this is an overtly personal album – many facets of his life being successfully merged into one whole.
Choral opener Andaðu establishes a sober, frosted atmosphere, coming seemingly direct from a remote, wintery corner of his homeland. It’s a solemn beginning that is revisited later on Óveðursský and Dragðu mig, both of which exude a becalmed grace and musically touch upon the sacred minimalism of Arvo Pärt. The string arrangements are crisp and fresh and on Komdu með recall Vespertine-era Björk in how electronics are interwoven and filtered through the track. Yet, in between Egilsson turns up the temperature and musically flexes his muscles.
The later stages of Crash can be favourably compared to artists like Four Tet and Gold Panda, especially in relation to the bassline that sensuously underpins it. If we’re looking closer to his new Erased Tapes home, the dancefloor-friendly sounds of Kiasmos is another reference that is hard to avoid. For all its stylistic variance however, it still sounds very Erased Tapes.
Break-Up is reminiscent of another Erased Tapes artist, Douglas Dare, and the scrupulous compositional style of Michael Price isn’t too far away on the likes of Dragðu mig. On Shed Your Skin meanwhile his vocals have a fragile sensitivity that recalls Patrick Watson. Moon Pitcher is one of the most memorable tracks on the album, possessing a strong R&B feel, all loose-limbed and agile. It may have taken some time to arrive but Two Trains is a strong personal statement that should find wider appreciation.