Iceland’s place in the pantheon of cool music continues unabated, despite recent challenges from Sweden and Finland. Apart from the wonderfully bonkers Björk moving from strength to strength with each passing marvellous album, Sigur Rós have been making a name for themselves as well with a contribution to the soundtrack for the Tom Cruise vehicle Vanilla Sky. And let’s not forget Damon Albarn, who continues to wax lyrical about Reykjavik at every opportunity – he co-wrote the score to 101 Reykjavik.
Leaves, who hail from the Icelandic capital, can only strengthen the reputation of the country’s musical worth. They’ve been quietly building up a name for themselves, and those in the know have been waiting for the debut album with a growing sense of anticipation. They are not to be disappointed, for Breathe is one of the most accessible albums to be released this year. There’s none of Björk’s wilful eccentricities here, nor Sigur Rós’ or Múm‘s otherworldly etherealness. What we have here is straightforward, quality guitar pop, and superb it sounds too.
The singles Race, Breathe and Catch figure here and they all give a good idea of what to expect. Think of a cheered up Coldplay, mix in some of Elbow‘s poignancy and top it all off with The Verve‘s sense of atmosphere, and you’ll get some idea of what to expect. There’s a real pop sensibility running through each track on ‘Breathe’.
Catch, for example, is full of jangly guitars and a soaring chorus perfectly suited for singer Arnar Gudjonsson’s strong vocals. Crazy is another standout, and could be a huge hit if released as a single. Elsewhere, the title track showcases a piano riff that could have come straight from Coldplay’s debut Parachutes, before drifting into an atmospheric chorus that makes this one of the loveliest tracks on the album.
Breathe is a supremely confident debut album that demonstrates Leaves as one of the most promising new bands around – however cliched that sounds, in this instance you really should believe the hype. If this album isn’t a massive hit then there’s an injustice in the world. On this form, Leaves will be huge sooner rather than later.