28 March 2006

does it come with the territory?

The first time I heard an Icelandic musician was Björk, when I was in college. The line, "I don't know my future after this weekend, and I don't want to" from Big Time Sensuality, was my unofficial senior spring motto, but her being from Iceland had no significance for me then. After that I didn't think about Icelandic music until I went to a Múm concert in Boston the summer J left Boston. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't associated their sound with this strange treeless land that I was angry at for taking away this guy I'd started to really really like. The audience was also not the kind of crowd I identify with, since the kind of person who would know and like Múm in Boston is a special breed of cooler-than-thou hipster that prefers their music obscure and their jeans faux vintage.

Then I moved to Iceland, and J and I moved to our new place with the huge view, I started learning the language, and something happened. The stuff makes sense to me now, and I can't get enough of it. It's not a good week unless I've listened to the latest by Sigur Rós at least once, preferably loud, preferably watching the changes in the sea and clouds, punctuated by raven flight. The layered and somewhat discordant sound that seems to be the hallmark of Icelandic musicians does illustrate the landscape remarkably well, with its forlorn emptiness, the punctuations of delicate clinging plants, the sloping sunlight, and the take-care-of-yourself-cuz-it-will-not additude.

J and I heard more of it last Friday at our favorite record store, 12 Tónar. They have the occasional Friday afternoon concert where they open a few jugs of cheap wine, fire up the coffee machine, and people of all types gather to listen to whomever happens to be there that day. It was two guys from Múm last week, and as the sounds reverberated on the walls of the tiny space, I once again felt that special brand of melancholy that only Iceland can serve up. It's the same feeling I got the first time I was here and went to the West Fjords, or when I stood next to the dripping edge of Sólheimajökull last year. So many of the things I see here seem to be on the brink of extinction. Will all these tiny villages, these windswept mountains, and melting glaciers survive? Why do so many things feel so much more fragile here than places I lived in the States?

Ship sighting: There is a very romantic sounding fiskiskip named Venus doing the tour of Reykjavík docks today, stopping at three different ones before leaving at midnight. Why so many stops? Other than that, it's the usual suspects of Samskip and Atlansskip cargo ships on the way in and out. I also saw an empty cargo ship leaving the harbor this morning in the midst of the weather front that was happening on both sides of our view this morning (snow on one side, sun on the other)


steffán said...

I don't live in Boston, but i hope i'm not a "cooler-than-thou hipster that's prefers their music obscure and their jeans faux vintage"... :-(

sb said...

So interesting 'cause I can't relate all to well with the current music in Iceland these days, but Bjork will always be one of my favs.

ECS said...

Stéphane- that audience description seems to only have applied to this one crowd, although I expect the same thing would be the case in NYC. The people who came out for the event last Friday, and during the Stórtónleikar in January were definitely much more varied, so my post is not a comment on your clothing preferences :-)

Sirrý- I agree that Björk is probably always going to be one of my favorites (especially Unravel.. an incredible song), especially as she is a neighbor of sorts. However, I really think Takk is an amazing album, and on nights like this when the wind is roaring in the air vents here, it's easy to add a Múm-style layered sound to the whistling around the house. I've only listened to these albums in Iceland though, so I do wonder what the effect would be if I were in some kind of lush, tropical place. Would I be instantly transported here, or would the sounds be all wrong and out of place?

cK said...

I drove back to Minnesota from Chicago after Christmas. My sister and I listened to the Screaming Masterpiece soundtrack she'd given me, and the road was haunted by a white fog, and the sky was matte white. Everything about the album was perfect. I don't know if Icelandic music would be as peculiar in a tropical culture as, say, sitar music in Alabama, but the influence of culture, language and landscape cannot be ignored.

Please keep writing. We're reading.

EXOUL said...

i've heard, seen & read so many good praises by Icelanders of their own country, but only a few times have i come across an outsider who've beautifully expressed their own views of Iceland as you have. makes me wanna pack up & move there right away.

deeply obssessed with the music scene there too. most especially MUM. been collecting every recording that they've released throughout their entire careers. if i live there, it'd have been much easier to do so. same as with SIGUR ROS. their latest album is my top 1 album from last year(2005). loved it to death despite the contradicting yet gorgeous aussie summer at the time of its local release.

right now its autumn here so those artists will get heavy rotations once more.

finally, thanks for your posts. keep em coming. i really wanna know more about Iceland. takk!