Tag Archives: Iceland

2013 Catchup: The Transportive Music Of Samaris

Samaris - Samaris

Samaris – Samaris

Ask someone to name a musician or band from Iceland and you can generally expect one of two answers: Björk or Sigur Rós. With those two artists as touchstones for our musical perceptions of the country, we may presume that all Icelandic artists are inspired by the unique, seemingly alien landscape of the island that they live on. However, that’s not always the case – neo-classical composer Ólafur Arnalds has admitted that one of his most beloved songs was, in fact, originally conceived with a far more pragmatic goal in mind, while electro-poppers Retro Stefson make music that would sound as at home on a Mediterranean beach as it does on the streets of Reykjavik.

Samaris, on the other hand, create the kind of Björk meets Fever Ray hybrid that feels like it could only have been conceived in this harsh yet beautiful climate – combining Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir’s haunting clarinet motifs, Þórður Kári Steinþórsson’s glacial electronica and the captivating vocals of Jófríður Ákadóttir, whose words are taken from 19th century Icelandic poems. Though they have stressed in interviews that they are not solely inspired by the nature of their country, it still seems somehow fitting to describe their self-titled debut release in terms of Iceland’s landscape – so let’s go on a journey…

At the outset, ‘Hljóma Þú’ serves as a perfect introduction to the atmosphere that Samaris create, calling to mind both the near-permanent darkness of Iceland’s winter and its vast areas of rugged basalt terrain. As if to complete this overall picture of the island, ‘Viltu Vitrast’ evokes the wide open sea that surrounds Iceland, with aquatic synthesisers bubbling underneath as a clarinet line soars above like a lone bird of prey. It’s ‘Góða Tungl’ that is the single most evocative piece on the album, however. Spacious, electronic beats reflect miles and miles of uninhabited landscape, the mournful clarinet sounds like a glacier slowly melting, rumbling bass echoes the tectonic activity that stirs between Iceland’s surface, and the ethereal vocals lend the whole thing an otherworldly feel.

The crystalline synths of ‘Stofnar Falla’ could represent frozen waterfalls, towering basalt columns or monumental ice flows, with the song’s dense atmosphere also conjuring up the bleak beauty of such distinctive landmarks. ’Vöggudub’, meanwhile, evokes the idea of finding respite from the bitter cold in other people, with Jófríður’s vocal shining like a beacon of humanity in an unforgiving expanse. As two takes on the same poem, ‘Sólhvörf (I)’ and ’Sólhvörf (II)’ feel like a slowly shifting lava field being depicted in two different ways – the former’s synths quiver and shudder in a way that evokes the dead of night, while the latter glistens like the first light of dawn, lending the imagined scenery a newfound serenity. Finally, we move to the very source of much of this natural beauty, with ‘Kælan Mikla’ sounding like the aftermath of a volcanic eruption – the vocals are more sombre and funereal than ever, with the synths like ash clouds slowly settling until they suddenly explode once again.

The last four tracks of this record are remixes by members of Iceland’s burgeoning electronic community, each of which throws a different filter on the pictures conjured up by these songs. Muted’s remix of ‘Hljóma Þú’ calls to mind an overcast, rainy day, while Futuregrapher’s version of ‘Viltu Viltrast’ is quite the opposite, bathing the song in the warm, comforting glow of summer. DJ Arfi turns ‘Góða Tungl’ on its head, his minor-key re-working making the landscape seem unnerving, with the threat of monstrous things lurking in the shadows cast by a distinctly bad moon – but the best of these remixes is Subminimal’s drum ’n’ bass refit of ’Stofnar Falla’, which offers not a change of mood but a change of pace. It evokes a feeling of travelling at great speed, with the rapid-fire beats akin to the foreground moving in fast-forward, while the vocals and clarinet remain implacable, distant and majestic, like mountains on the horizon.

And thus, Samaris comes to a close, as does our journey. But if you take one thing away from this piece of writing (or want a tl;dr version), let it be this – the music that Samaris create is truly transportive. You may not envision quite the same images as I do when you play this album, but I guarantee that what you see in your mind’s eye will be wonderful regardless.

Samaris is available now on One Little Indian records.


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International Artist Of The Whenever #2: Retro Stefson (IS)

I did warn you that there would be a distinct fixation on Icelandic bands in the early stages of this feature – but you might not immediately guess that Retro Stefson came from those chilly climes upon listening to their music.

Retro Stefson

Retro Stefson

An eight-piece group led by a pair of brothers (Logi Pedro Stefánsson and Unnsteinn Manuel Stefánsson), Retro Stefson throw elements of music from across the globe into one big Icelandic melting pot to create instantly catchy, danceable tunes – check out the effortlessly cool (and award winning) video for ‘Glow’:

Though debut record Kimbabwe definitely has its moments of brilliance (the anarchic afro-pop of ‘Kimba’ is particularly excellent), it’s on their most recent, self-titled effort that the band have truly begun to shine. From the blissed-out groove of opener ‘Solaris’ to the way ‘She Said’ just oozes confidence, Retro Stefson is a hit-packed record – the strutting electro-pop of ‘Qween’ and the impossibly infectious chorus of ‘Miss Nobody’ are just some of the other highlights.

In terms of UK goings-on, Radio 1’s Huw Stephens is clearly a fan of the band, having booked them in for a session at Madia Vale studios over the summer, as well as giving them a slot on his hand-picked lineup for the Lake Stage at Latitude Festival. While the band don’t have any UK shows lined up at this exact moment in time, hopefully the exposure they gained over the summer will see them hit our shores again sooner rather than later. Maybe in a joint tour with FM Belfast? Now that’d be a party and a half.

Retro Stefson is out now on Les Frères Stefson / Republic Of Music records. For more information about the band, check out their official website.

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International Artist Of The Whenever #1: Samaris (IS)

Anyone who was lucky enough to be at last year’s Iceland Airwaves festival will surely have heard the buzz around Samaris – a unique trio making the kind of glacial electronica that could only have come from Iceland.



Comprised of vocalist Jófríður Ákadóttir (who is also one half of Pascal Pinon), clarinetist Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir, and electronic musican Þórður Kári Steinþórsson, Samaris make music that sounds a little like a meeting of minds between Björk and Fever Ray. Watch the video for the mesmerising ‘Góða Tungl’ below.

The band have recently begun to attract attention outside Iceland, with The 405 and The Line Of Best Fit among others picking up on their self-titled debut UK release on One Little Indian. Samaris is a compilation of two EPs that were previously only released in Iceland – Hljóma Þú and Stofnar Falla – and sets the words of 19th-century Icelandic poets against a backdrop of trip-hop/dub influenced electronica and haunting clarinet motifs, with Jófríður’s enchanting vocals completing the band’s otherworldly sound.

The band played their first UK show back in June in London, and after making festival appearances at Sonar, Electric Picnic and Berlin Music Week, they return for two dates in the UK next week. First up is a gig at Gorilla in Manchester on Tuesday 24th September, supporting the wonderful Jon Hopkins and Lone. Then on Thursday 26th September they play The Lexington in London along with Eye Emma Jedi from Norway and Satellite Stories from Finland.

A new album from Samaris is scheduled for release before the end of the year, but for now I would implore you to listen to their debut release – it really is an unconventional and incredible record that marks an extremely promising beginning for this young trio.

Samaris is out now on One Little Indian records. For more information about the band, check out their official website.

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