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Reykjavik Grapevine: Album Reviews: Adda and Atónal Blús

04 May

A few albums reviews were posted in The Grapevine online this week after being published in the paper. though i’d put them up on here for your reading pleasure….

ADDA: My Brain EP (2014)

‘My Brain,’ the crowdsourced debut EP from singer/songwriter Adda (AKA Arnþrúður Ingólfsdóttir), is a wonderfully austere, haunting body of folk songs. Playing fingerpicked acoustic guitar, Adda sings a lot about her turbulent mind (referring to her brain as a third person entity), as if she were in a passionate relationship with a partner. With all the highs and lows it entails, the intensity and emotional gravity of such feelings reverberate in Adda’s voice (with accompaniment from her sister Sunna). The rising, sustained two-note harmonies on “Taking Off,” for example, set your arm hairs on edge.

Adda has in the past referred to Joni Mitchell as a big influence and Jewel songs such as “Pieces Of You” and “Little Sister” could sit perfectly well alongside this EP. But while those artists have a shiny Americana gloss to them, ‘My Brain’ has a much stronger, rustic folk dynamic, as if it’s been opened up to the changeable elements of Northern European climes. “Waking Up,” with the reedy flute accompaniment of Georgia Browne, is a dew-laden, pastoral sunrise of a song while “I Will Not Forget,” a survivor’s letter of thanks to family and friends, is definitely the best track on the EP. The undulating meter of the guitar accompanied by waves of long drawn cello drones that drift in and out of focus have a mesmeric spectral quality, all windswept cliffs and remote peninsulas.

If there’s one duff moment in ‘My Brain,’ then it’s “Queer Sweetheart” with its finger-clicking jazz-blues melody, which alas does not do anything for me. But even here, decidedly acidic witty lines such as “You might even catch me with a queer porn flick/But don’t tell my country about it though/Cos there I’m a radical feminist oh-oh/And they don’t watch any kind of porn,” made me spit my morning tea out, going “Damn! You went there!”

‘My Brain’ is an accomplished debut EP that’s highly intimate, even confessional, but never comes across as self-obsessed. There is a quiet determination that resides at the centre of the music. The production also shows that when it comes to creating an impact with her song writing, she definitely gets what folk is all about.

Atónal Blús: Höfuðsynd

It should be noted that when you first play ‘Höfuðsynd,’ the debut album from new band Atónal Blús, you quickly realise that despite the cool name, that they’re not really Arnold Schoenberg does John Lee Hooker. But that’s not to dispute that there’s some avant-garde tinkering at play here. The opening track, “Atónal Blús,” is a murky, buzzing, discoloured breakdown of a song that comes closest to the atonal aesthetic implied of the band’s name.

From there it settles down into a spot-welded blend of heaving psych-inflected rock and interesting rhythmic patterns that could be seen as a little bit (whisper it) “proggy.” The rhythm workings shouldn’t come as a surprise. The band’s main instigator, Gestur Guðnason, was a member of Icelandic Balkan beats band Stórsveit Nix Noltes, and a track like “Balkan Boogie” is pretty much a fuzzed up variation on the SNN template, although it’s definitely more subtly employed on tracks such as “Oxygen Kills.” The rock components themselves are manfully done although fairly standard in their structure and occasionally border on cliché (freight train sounds made with the harmonica and acoustic jams with bongos).

All in all, ‘Höfuðsynd’ is a rather enjoyable listen. The drums/bass partnership have been brought right to the front of the mix, giving what could have been an average rock song like “Sexy Slave” some overloading, thumping menace (Jesus, those floor toms!). There are also several moments, such as when the vocals, harmonica and lead guitar combine on “Lítið ljón,” where there’s a looseness that borders on the unstable, giving it a definite edge in comparison to the stiff, crushing orthodoxy of much of Iceland’s lauded “real rock” music. Definitely worth a spin for rock heads looking for a little more danger in their music.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2014 in Iceland, music

 

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