There was a good debate on a Sigur Ros message board the other day about people liking music just because it was from Iceland. I don't think that happens, if anyone's going to do it then it would be me. Firstly, you wont find me writing on here about music I don't like - because why bother? I'm not a critic but an enthusiast. Secondly, experience tells me that I like the Icelandic music scene. I'm more likely to like a band from this scene than from many others and I feel personally involved to an extent and that always helps. It's also true to a lesser extent of Canadian bands for example (not you Bryan). I'm well aware there are probably other pockets of the world with great scenes that I'd love - but I know about this one, not the others yet.
Anyway, that big word at the top is the name of an annual competition in Iceland for new, young bands. In the past it has been won by the likes of Maus, Minus, Budrygyndi, Mammut and Jakobinarina - it has a pretty decent track record. It happens every year in March, and I remember about it in the summer, try to remember how to spell the name and eventually find the website. And then I trawl through it - a new un-mined collection of Icelandic bands with wacky names, intriguing band photos, members who were unborn when I first went to Iceland and sometimes really great songs full of promise. I believe part of the prize is a slot at the Airwaves festival this October.
So, how's this year's bunch? Well I've downloaded loads (all available on the above site or via the artist websites on their profiles there) and found a few of real interest. My Icelandic is not great (understatement) but it seems the winner was an artist called Agent Fresco, the song is a dual personalitied (that ain't a word) instrumental veering from Metallica to Badly Drawn Boy and back. Really, I'm no critic - these will be done mainly with references to other music and artists. It's enjoyable, but there are better in my view. There's an unnamed track by a band called Catch (there was a UK band of that name years ago, one great song called Bingo) which is good guitar pop, basic but really promising. Actually basic is doing it a disservice, really enjoyable. Next, a really good acoustic song called "You and I" by a guy called Elis - now this is somehow Icelandic sounding. I hear Mugison, Petur Ben, Thorir in there and I see a good quirky profile picture. Could be a good one.
When the band is called Endless Dark (they came 3rd I think) and the song is "Poison In Her Blood", you know roughly what you're in for, but this nearly tricked me with an intro of chiming keyboards. But the crunching guitar soon followed, and two vocalists - one distorted and growly for the verses and one clear and smoother for the chorus. Very competent indeed, I'd like to hear more. Next come Hinir, and what's this? Icelandic reggae? And I thought Hjalmar had that sewn up, or maybe they've created a whole new sub-genre. Turns out this isn't all about the reggae, but a Santana-like instrumental with a hint of the Hjalmar. The track by Johnny Computer (told you, there's good band names to be had here) has a fabulous intro, and it's pretty good right through. It appears to be about escaping the Icelandic winter and includes a line, "Even our drummer is gay". Good stuff. Then on to The Nellies, and aha!.. feedback and strong drumming - rocky and screamy. Hang on, there's two songs from them - the second one slower and more moody, makes me think of Reef. It ends with a 2 minute plus guitar solo.
Next up, The Nightriders with a track called "The Geniuses Who Descend Into The Darkness" and could they mean Justin Hawkins et al? I like this, full of character, listening to this is fun and yes there's a Hawkins-esque scream/squeal going on. Great name, great logo, and No Practice deliver another instrumental, there seems to be a surfeit of these and I'm not a big fan in general (note - must return to top 5 instrumentals). And then, second placed Óskar Axels og Karen Páls and it's fabulous. It starts out sounding like it could be a late Beatles intro, but turns out to be (I think) a teenage rapping trio joined by a schoolgirl singing a sweet chorus. Again the language is a barrier, but it sounds to me like the boys are being rude and the girl is not. Whatever is actually going on, this is great fun. I was going to leave out Pink Rosewood as it sounded pretty average, but then along came a good, crashing chorus with a kind of call and response going on. It's better than average, but that name? Really letting the side down! Ah, now this is the stuff - a band called Shit doing "Anarchy In Iceland", yep a faithful cover of The Sex Pistols with UK replaced by Iceland in the lyrics. Enjoyed that - but what else you got Shit?
The final leg... "Drama Queen" by Seven Figures is fine, guitar pop. Winson give us more shouty metal that Icelanders seem to love - not bad. Unchastity have another good name, but the song passed me by a bit. Another instrumental, and a very short one, from a band called Room 165 - need to hear more than that really. Bob Gillan og Ztrandverðirnir - the band name sounds only half Icelandic, and actually there's nothing in the song that sounds remotely Icelandic. This is likeable but really could be from anywhere and reminds me of that girl from the Beautiful South or even 4 Non Blondes (where did I pull that from?!). And finally, Electronic Playground - they sound fun, like they'd be a good live band.
So that's that for another year, we'll see how they go. What's that? An iceblah top 5? Oh OK...
5= (sorry) Seven Figures / Nightriders
3. Endless Dark
1. Oskar Axels og Karen Pals