Ari - 'Fræ'
After finally getting around to the Mammút album, we can concentrate on reviewing more recent albums, and whilst we enjoy getting our heads around new releases from 'Black Dog Howl' (Denmark) and 'Ilkka Arola' (Finland), we'll stay in Iceland for an excellent album release from Ari (Guðmundsson). The multi-instrumentalist has just released his album entitled 'Fræ' (translated to 'Seeds'), and I've enjoyed listening to this so much over the last week.
I've always had a fascination in musicians who write and perform almost all the instruments in their albums, and in 'Fræ' Ari is able to set out a real personal style and ambition in his songwriting, that i guess might possibly get lost if he was performing with other musicians. The music is generally easy to listen to, directly contrasting with Mammút, because 'Kinder Versions' might be outstanding in many ways, but it has a harshness to it that you'll never see in Ari's music. The lyrics are in Icelandic, which obviously does mean that I've probably missed some important points, but there's a passion in the vocals, especially on tracks such as 'Hinnin og haf', and the lyrics that I have worked through are clearly well constructed.
So the album opens with 'Spor', synth driven in the main, with a hypnotic beat, and it is actually a fairly understated opening, and maybe not an album highlight. The album really gets moving though with 'Nýju vondu næturnar' (New Bad Nights'), a great synth theme which carries the track forward, and when the guitars join in for the chorus this suddenly feels like an album which really means business. I really like the lyrics here too... ''After these new bad nights it's so easy to wake up in a wrong town, in a wrong bed and in a wrong wrong body'.
After the rockier 'Fræ', we're offered a real highlight of the album, 'Auga uppþotsins' ('The eye of the riot'), which sets out Ari's frustration with the 'untouchables' in society, those such as the bankers, who stand in the heart of the storm but remain standing to regroup and carry on taking advantage of the country like before. Musically it is the most beautifully melodic track, the chorus offers hints of Icelandic bands such as Ampop, and the vocals are emotional and convincing. 'Á eldi' ('On Fire') is a catchy indie pop song with a great bass line and I like the short instrumental section that launches the track towards the climax.
More thoughtful lyrics in 'Anarkistinn' leads us to another favourite on the album 'Himinnn og haf', which is based on the Icelandic saying 'there is a heaven and sea between us', and builds to a lovely emotional chorus which I really like, with the lyrics 'Why am I again in a place where I've never been before, It's not that I want this, but still I run fast (fast, fast) towards it'. All that's missing is a big string section to really layer on the intensity of the track. Allur hávaði heimsins ('All the noise of the earth') builds to the biggest chorus of the album, and then he ends with 'Endakall', another thought provoking song based around the repeated phrase 'The end ends / The end will end soon'.
As much as I like tracks such as 'Auga uppþotsins', it's probably fair to say that this isn't an album which has those 3 or 4 killer single type tracks that will catapult it to fame and fortune, and it's not got 'big' glitzy production either. But we've always wanted albums to be the main focus of Nordic Music Review, and as such Fræ is a real success, with a consistent set of likeable tracks that fuse nicely the synths and guitars, offer plenty of big melodies and catchy chorus along the way, and have impressively considered lyrics too. I really hope this gets some traction back in Iceland at least, because 'unheralded' independent releases like this which are so musical and thought provoking, are deserving of as much attention as possible.
Nordic Music Review 8/10