Iceland has, as every article about Icelandic music ever will tell you, produced many artists that have created music of epic proportions – Sigur Rós and Björk to merely scratch the surface. There are plenty to go around and keep the hipster blogs happy. However, recently there has also a good amount of rootsy, folky and quieter sounds to emerge from the small country. Innundir Skinni by Ólöf Arnalds is one of the more recent examples as well as Feldberg who are making wonderfully twee and delightful pop. Both deserve more attention but it’s tough to break through and sit alongside their more established contemporaries.
Kalli, aka Karl Henry from Without Gravity has, for his second solo outing Last Train Home, headed to Nashville, Tennessee, the home of country. It’s a pretty big hint as to what to expect from his new album. From Karl Henry’s vocals, lovely as they are, to the guitars that could have come from just about any record from the genre over the last few decades, and trademark shuffling rhythms, this is an LP that wears its influences on its sleeve even if none of this translates into a particularly stunning listen.
Black To Blue, the opener, paints a very vivid picture of what the record is going to contain – hushed and gentle instrumentation and harmonies a-plenty. The two songs that follow, Dark Horse and the title track, feel rather familiar. On the other side of the coin, Lullaby provides a welcome diversion into more folky territory with some gorgeous delicacy and This Is Goodbye is easily the clear standout and one of the few tracks that could be said to be inventive. Then there’s the in-betweens such as Nothing At All that hint at a few tiny sparks of liveliness, but they’re not really capitalised on.
The main problem that hampers Last Train Home quite significantly is the fact it is just a bit too repetitive for the most part. The result is a mood that is way too downtempo; to get away with such a direction this material has to have some variation in dynamics to keep the listener interested and to convince them that it’s more than a pastiche. It desperately needs something else to transform these fair-to-middling songs into a collection that warrants repeated plays.
This is not a terrible album by any means – it’s easy listening and there are some nice moments on show – but it’s hard to think of this as anything other than a pastiche that will fade from memory quite easily. If it was a little more willing to play around with some of the conventions of the genre and perhaps if it had some slightly more interesting songs then Kalli could be lauded as Iceland’s next promising talent. As it is, it feels like an opportunity gone begging.