When I listened to Soffía Björg’s eponymous debut album a few years ago I felt straight away that as good as it was there would be no ‘difficult second album’ for her, rather that when it came it would build on the first one to be something special. After listening to this first track from it I have no intention of revising that prognosis.
The Icelander, who lives on a farm about 50 miles north of Reykjavik and who spurns the lights of the ‘big city’ in favour of her horses, has been compared to numerous high quality artists and notably NorahJones. But as I’ve argued before she has very much a style of her own, which is mainly indie-folk oriented but she can rock with the best of them, as she proves here.
She’s also very honest. I watched her put on a solo ‘off-venue’ show at a Joe & the Juice at the last Iceland Airwaves festival and she surprised the audience by regaling them with stories about her misspent youth as one of the younger members of a very large family. She’s a natural storyteller both in prose and verse. And it is partly for that reason that I wonder if she is recounting her own adventures, youthful or contemporary, in many of her songs. In this one she sings, straight from the off,
“There was a time I lied, I cheated, I drank; went around in circles on an almost empty tank,” then, “I’m grateful to my friends, the ones who stuck around, while I was chasing shadows on the other side of town,” while all the time she was “scared to death to be all alone.”
It reminded me of the track ‘Drink’ from the first album. “We used to drink our feelings dry, until we stopped, to bleed inside”.
Then it adopts a more menacing aspect when it appears to reference a ‘Delilah’ – like moment when someone gets their just deserts on Judgement Day, which reminded me of another previous song where shots were fired, ‘Silence the Voices.’ You can sense a dark, disturbing pattern developing in her portfolio.
Musically, there have been several notable changes. Soffía Björg’s band typically includes such local luminaries as virtuoso guitarist Pétur Ben, and bassist Ingibjörg Elsa Turchi and I assume that they helped her record previous work, too.
They are absent from this song according to notes on her Facebook page. I don’t know if that also applies to the album but an opportunity arose for her to generate a different kind of sound altogether from the one that is usually dominated by Pétur Ben’s guitar, courtesy of a cello and trumpet, together with backing vocals from a four person choir. Even if the regulars return for other album tracks this little experiment was well worth the effort because it really does work, with Soffía’s vocal in particular benefitting from the choral backing and reaching new heights. And the percussion is much more to the fore than it has been previously.
The trumpet, which provides an Amy Winehouse-style soul/blues backing early on, really comes in to its own as the song progresses into a sustained, enthralling anthem, which I’d love to see her perform live.
‘Judgement Day’ is a quantum leap from the recording quality on the debut album (and that wasn’t bad either by the way) and sets a new gold standard for the Borgarnes girl. If the remainder of the album is of the same quality she will quickly become the international star I’ve always believed she could be.
We don’t have a date yet for the release of the album. ‘Judgement Day’ is available on streaming services now.
Find her on Facebook.