Music Discoveries: Guðbjörg Tómasdóttir’s Top 8 Albums


I’m switching things up this month. Instead of focusing on the musical output of one band or artist, I decided to listen to all the albums on a list of favorite albums from one artist.  That artist is Guðbjörg Tómasdóttir of the duo My Bubba, she being the Icelandic Bubba with her Swedish partner My Larsdotter.  My Bubba have appeared in my Song of the Week posts on two occasions for their tracks “Poem Found in the Pocket of an Amazon” and “Big Bad Good” and the latter song also made my favorite songs of 2016 list.

I found 7 of the 8 albums on streaming services. So here is my venture into Icelandic sometimes folkish, sometimes jazzy, often minimalist, and always vocal oriented popular music

 

ArtistBjörk Guðmundsdóttir & Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar
AlbumGlíng-Gló (1990)
Favorite Tracks: “Kata rokkar,”  “Tondeleyo,”  and “Börnin við tjörnina”
Thoughts: I suspect this isn’t for everyone, but if you find the idea of Björk crooning jazz standards in her native tongue appealing, then this album is for you.
Rating: ***1/2


ArtistEmilíana Torrini
AlbumFisherman’s Woman (2005)
Favorite Tracks: “Nothing Brings Me Down,”  “Today Has Been OK”
Thoughts: If Björk’s voice doesn’t do it for you, Emilíana Torrini’s is more accessible, both ethereal and emotive.  Her style reminds me of the English folk  rock movement of the 1970s but these tracks are accompanied by minimalist guitar.
Rating: ***1/2


ArtistÓlöf Arnalds
AlbumVið Og Við (2007)
Favorite Tracks: “Í Nýju Húsi”
Thoughts: Troubadour-style performances of traditional Icelandic music.  Again, I’m reminded of the folk revival styles of the 60s & 70s, but in Icelandic.
Rating: ***


Artist: Sigurður Guðmundsson og Memfismafían
AlbumOft spurði ég mömmu (2008)
Favorite Tracks: “Lady Fish And Chips” and “Veðrið er herfilegt”
Thoughts: Another retro album described as “old Icelandic popular tunes,” but here “old” sounds like pop songs of the 30s to 50s.  And it’s pretty clear that one of them is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” which sounds more sexy than creepy in Icelandic.  I can’t find anything on the web about this album in English, but the vocalist has a Frank Sinatra vibe, and the whole album swings.
Rating: ***1/2


ArtistMúgíson 
AlbumHaglél (2011)
Thoughts: This album apparently resonated strongly with the people of Iceland, but I’m not as impressed.  Of course, I know nothing of the lyrics, but musically it sounds like 70s pop songs with maybe a little 90s angst.
Rating: **


ArtistValdimar 
AlbumUndraland (2010)
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: Cheerful indie pop. The brass section moves this from mundane to a bit interesting.
Rating:**1/2


Artistamiina
AlbumFantômas (2016)
Favorite Tracks: “Simplon Express” and “Entrepots de Bercy”
Thoughts: This was composed as a score for a 100-year-old silent film, and it’s a beautiful work of minimalist post-rock.  Definitely worth listening to if that’s your bag.
Rating:  ****

 

That’s my music discovery for the month, let me know if there’s something I should be listening to in May by leaving a comment!

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Music Discoveries: Sigur Rós


Icelandic band Sigur Rós is known for their soundscapes, mimimalists arrangements, overlay of instruments, reverb, and ethereal vocals of band leaderJón Þór Birgisson, known as Jonsi.  I became aware of the band about a decade ago and Ágætis byrjun is one of my all-time favorite albums, but I was less familiar with their other work.  So now I’ve listened to two decades of Sigur Rós’ recordings and I have to say I like this band all the more.  Their genre of post-rock, whatever that means, is something that appeals to me. And as someone who has trouble paying attention to lyrics, how lovely is it to have a band that sometimes sings in made up words where the emotion is more important than their meaning.

On this day that Iceland’s football team advances in the Euro 2016 tournament, how better to celebrate than by going through an album-by-album review of Sigur Rós’ catalogue.

AlbumVon
Release date: June 1997
Favorite tracks:  “Sigur Rós,”  “Hún Jörð …,”  “Von,” and “Syndir Guðs (Opinberun frelsarans)”
Thoughts:  This debut album features the expected dreamy soundscapes overlaid with ethereal vocals, but that is not all it has to offer.  From the spooky opening track, more sound collage than music to the propulsive drums and fuzz guitar of  “Hún Jörð …” there’s a lot to chew on.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumÁgætis byrjun
Release date: 12 June 1999
Favorite tracks: “Svefn-g-englar,” “Starálfur,” “Ný batterí,” “Olsen Olsen,” and “Ágætis byrjun”
Thoughts:  A masterpiece.  Just a gift of music and beauty to the world. I have a particular fondness for the title track since it was playing in the delivery room when my daughter was born.  A Good Beginning, indeed!
Rating: *****


Album( )
Release date: 28 October 2002
Favorite tracks: “Untitled 1” and “Untitled 7”
Thoughts: This is a minimally titled album with minimally titled songs, but not made with minimal effort.  The first four tracks are more cheerful, while the last four are more sorrowful.  All of the songs are performed by Jonsi in the made-up language of Vonlenska (called “Hopelandic” in English).  It’s a concept album that holds together well even if the concept is more of a feeling than something concrete
Rating: ***1/2


Album: Takk…
Release date: 12 December 2005
Favorite tracks: “Glósóli,” “Hoppípolla,” “Sæglópur, ” and  “Svo hljótt”
Thoughts: Sigur Rós songs are known for their orchestral arrangements and slow builds, but that seems even more true on this album.  So it’s know surprise that several of these songs were used as promotional music.  This sounds like the soundtrack to a movie in your head.  Lovely and immersive.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumHvarf/Heim
Release date: 5 November 2007
Favorite tracks:  “Hljómalind”
Thoughts: This compilation is half recordings of previously unreleased songs and half a live set of acoustic performances from the documentary Heima. The first half is nice but you can tell that they’re outtakes.  The second half is lovely although the tracks sound surprisingly “perfect” for a live performance.
Rating: ***


AlbumMeð suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
Release date: 20 June 2008
Favorite tracks:  “Gobbledigook,” “Festival,” “Ára bátur,” and “All Alright.”
Thoughts: A departure of sorts as this album is more guitar-driven and folk-inflected indie rock than the spare and orchestral sounds of their previous works.  There’s also a song in English, a slow, sad song in English.
Rating: ***


AlbumInni
Release date: 7 November 2011
Thoughts: Another live recording accompanying a concert film, this two-disc set captures songs from all of Sigur Rós career up to this point.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumValtari
Release date: 23 May 2012
Favorite tracks:”Varúð” and “Fjögur píanó”
Thoughts: Sigur Rós steps back from the pop sensibilities of the previous album, reverting to soundscapes that are even quieter and more restrained than their earlier recordings, if that can be believed.  It’s beautiful stuff, but can also be too much of a good thing.
 Rating:


AlbumKveikur
Release date: 12 June 2013
Favorite tracks:  “Brennisteinn”
Thoughts: More aggressive than earlier work, the soundscapes that so often are accompanied by visuals of Iceland’s scenic beauty, this is the harsh side of nature – icy winds, crashing waves, and jagged rocks.  And there’s quite a bit of change among tracks so it’s clear where one ends and the next begins.
Rating: ***


There’s my thoughts on Sigur Rós and I hope to hear more from them in the future.

Music Discoveries continues in two weeks when I will get down and give it up for Parliament/Funkadelic.

Song of the Week: “Poyekhali!” by Úlfur Eldjárn


Úlfur Eldjárn is a composer from Iceland.  I tend to post a lot music by artists from Iceland. But we’re now in the darkest coldest part of winter and I have three friends traveling in Iceland right now.  So I’m posting another tune by an Icelandic musician.

Here is Úlfur Eldjárn live at KEXP with “Poyekhali!”

Song of the Week: “If I Was” by Vök


Vök, a indie electro-band from Iceland, provides us with the first Song of the Week of September with “If I Was.”  Ethereal vocals, pulsating rhythms, dreamy lyrics, and a general sense of Icelandicness.  What’s not to love.   Learn more from KEXP.

Song of the Week: “Lífsins Ólgusjór” by Samaris


Another week, another recommendation for an Icelandic rock band.  “Lífsins Ólgusjór”  by Samaris is inspired by 19th-century Icelandic poetry and laid over a reggae beat.  Check out their recently released second album Silkidranga for more.

Song of the Week: “Venter” by Ben Frost


Ben Frost is an Australian composer and producer, but like half the artists I post on SOTW, he is based out of Iceland.

“Venter” is a minimalist, instrumental piece that sounds like it’s from an imaginary psychological thriller.

What’s on your playlist this week?

Song of the Week: “Ethiópían” by Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band


In my pseudo-hipster way, I tend to post songs by Icelandic bands and by bands with an afrobeat sound, so why not do both?  Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band is from Iceland and they do play an African jazz/funk fusion style as you can hear on this track “Ethiópían”

 

What are you listening to this week?  Post it in the comments and perhaps it will be my Song of the Week next week.

Songs of the Week: “Hvíld og ró” and “Rooftop”


No songs jumped out at me as being THE song of the week, but there are two songs I’m liking more that I listen to them.

 

The first song features the ethereal vocals of Icelandic singer/songwriter Sigurlaug Gísladóttir with fellow Icelandic singer/songwriter  Snorri Helgason on guitar and backing vocals.

Closer to home, Lady the Lambkeeper  is the stage name of Portland, Maine folk rocker Aly Spaltro:

 

Today I learned of a new service called Pitchfork Advance which allows one to preview new albums online.  This week’s album is Fade by Yo La Tengo.  As Yo La Tengo is one of my favorite bands of all time, I encourage you to listen to it early and often.

What are you listening to in 2013?

Movie Round-Up


Mr. Bjarnfreðarson (2009) ***

An Icelandic comedy that combines dark humor, fish-out-of-water stories, and self-discovery all in one entertainingly bizarre package.  The titular character has been raised by his extremist socialist/feminist mother (the heavy-handiness of the stereotypes of the mother are my least favorite part of the movie) to an extent that he can’t fit in to every day society.

Heima (2007) ****

This concert follows the Icelandic band Sigur Ros on their heroic return to their homeland where they thank their country-folk with a series of free concerts.  The setting for the concerts emphasize Iceland’s natural beauty and include local musicians all captured with amazing cinematography.  So beautiful.

The Wind in the Willows (2005) **

An adaptation of the classic novel that starts off well but once Mole and Rat are left behind and it becomes all Mr. Toad it gets a bit silly and dull.

Finding Nemo (2003) *****

I introduced Peter to Pixar films with this classic and he received it well.  Apparently, the sharks are funny.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) *****

Peter didn’t like this one as much as the monsters were scary and we had to turn it off when Sully is sledding down the Himalayas.  I love it though.

The Fox & the Hound (1981) ****

I saw this movie in the theaters back when I was 7-years old and loved it. The story is much as I remembered it but the animation is pretty chintzy and I was surprised by how many of the voice actors were the same as “Winnie the Pooh.”  Peter enjoyed it too, although from his perspective this was “The Bear Movie.”  The bear is on screen for maybe five minutes, but it makes a big impression to a toddler.