Our Nordic cousins have a habit of creating music as epic as their surroundings. Maybe it’s the ridiculous price of booze and zero tolerance towards class A’s that makes them go outside and appreciate the epic landscapes rather than getting caught up in fights, writing songs about the grimy underbelly of the city and checking into rehab. Maybe it’s just that they are fed up of ABBA and Björk hogging the lions share of musical accolades, making music that sounds as vast and wistful as this is designed to prove a point.
That point being that there is a hell of a lot of great music that comes from musicians starved of sunlight and brought up on the kind of food we usually associate with pulling sleighs. Iceland’s Leaves stand as testament to this theory: The Angela Test is a wonderfully laid-back record, absolutely brimming with expansive and cathartic songs. It’s a sound that takes a great deal from the inteli-pop of Coldplay and experimentalism of Radiohead, as violin segments jostle for musical room with uplifting pianos and climatic lyrics.
Opening track Shakma (Drunken Starlit Sky) couples a delicate piano, rising horns and a stadium sized ending which wouldn’t sound out of place on X & Y, with lyrics that verbally describe the vastness of the music. Singer Amar Gudjonsson, an Icelandic soundalike for Doves‘ Jimi Goodwin, describes not only a night below the stars, but the air of the music itself: “I try to swim towards the soothing sound/But something slows me down”.
Similarly, the title track begins with Gudjonsson’s delicate vocals, building into multi-part harmonies as the track builds: “In the wasteland we feared/When the creature appeared”. The creature here is the glacier shattering sound of Leaves pulling up into another huge chorus.
It’s not all soft and delicate soundscapes though. Good Enough builds from an reverb drenched guitar that Johnny Greenwood regularly wielded all over the less experimental tracks from Hail To The Thief, it’s Leaves letting off some lover induced steam: “You cut me up and tear me apart/ Drink my blood and crush my heart”. Conclusive proof that despite the influence of their surroundings, Leaves have to deal with the same domestics as the rest of us.
This darker, more personable edge is something that permeates The Angela Test. While their compatriots Sigur Rós or Björk turn to experimental (and often instrumental) platforms for the sound, Leaves have written a record filled with lyrics laced with angst and turmoil. “Everywhere I go people seem to look right through me”, Gudjonsson sings on The Transparent, a rally cry for the insecure and insignificant.
They’re not going to stir the kids up like The Others or The Libertines, but nevertheless The Angela Test is a affable record when its epic, dreamy backdrops are peeled back.