From Iceland, Reykjavik. A blend of electronica, strings and pop, with strings recorded and mixed by the excellent Ólafur Arnalds. It’s difficult not to get excited knowing all of the above.
Releasing what the Icelandic press say is ‚one of the very best albums of 2009‘ – now for their wider audience – ‚Dry Land‘ is a carefully and intricately produced second LP in the main, following 2007’s ‚Sticky Situation‘. The band have grown from playing East-Iceland electronica shows in ‚run-down houses‘ (hard to imagine in the picturesque splendour created by Icelandic darlings Sigur Rós) to ’something much bigger‘, playing festivals like SXSW in Austin, Texas, Roskilde festival in Denmark, CMJ in New York, and Iceland Airwaves. Their live show features instruments that wouldn’t look out of place behind closed doors at NASA.
It’s not hard to agree with the opinion that this record is a big step up for the band. How big a step in terms of quality is the most important question facing this album. ‚My Arms‘ kicks things off strongly; synths swirl before a kick drum sets a heart-beat pattern for the track. The dual-vocals with the synth works really well, and there’s an early 80’s gleam to the track. However, the finer moments are found under the surface, with some sprawling strings following the vocal melody at times, and some other hushed undertones. In terms of the previously mentioned quality production, this track nails it. The heart-beat leads out the track with the single vocal line: „I’ve felt things come from my fingers when it rains down from the stars, won’t you listen, won’t you focus, won’t you loosen up my arms?“ We’ve had strings, we’ve had some electronica, we’ve had great vocal interplay, we’ve had some nice production, and we’re just one track in.
Second track ‚This Heart‘ is even better – it introduces us to some sultry, beautiful vocals from one of these Icelanders, Lilja – (Janus, Raggi and Hallur I assume are male). It has some nice electro-fuzz opening moments, calling to mind the lesser-known (but brilliant) Darlings Of The Splitscreen. It’s fun and has a great pulsating groove, with electronica-led synths flanked by clean-sounding strings. ‚…all that matters is this heart…‚ is proclaimed at the end, and over this melody the chorus line ‚These things I do they are no accidents, this city’s eating up my innocence‘ works well – a comment you could use about most cities these days. Perhaps not Reykjavik, though?
‚Wars‘ perhaps suffers from following a strong opening – on first listen it appears to be a little bland, with some obvious-sounding lyrical choices: ’say what you came here to say, know you will regret it some day‚, but this could be doing the track a disservice. In time, I’m sure re-visiting this track will make a little more sense, but it’s not nearly as exciting as what came before. Next track ‚How Do We Know?‘ is infinitely better, with a better beat and again some beautiful vocals, with some lamenting strings and a better pick-up in sound. It grows to a nice, 80’s sounding swirl at the end – the vocal tricks, backing track and layers sound again very carefully planned.
From here, things take a bit of a plunge, however. After a pretty forgettable track (‚Buried In Sand‘), ‚Overload‘ favours a synth-sound which sounds like my cat continually asking for food. Whilst being amusing, this does ruin the track, with it’s minimalism and strange meowing synth just not strong enough to stand amongst the quality of the earlier LP tracks.
‚Pro Choice‘ begins with some reverb beats, before a constant kick drums leads in some vocals and synths with a low-treble. It’s an initial return to some quality, and it seems clear the band are best when more upbeat. Vocals are multi-layered and drenched in reverb, but by the time the track settles itself, it sounds again a bit flat; the chorus vocal line ‚overload, over-load‚ just sounds a little too obvious. ‚Moonstone‘ fares much better, with a darker edge to the electronica beat, heralding a very definite return to form. The mid-section to this track – the mixture of video-game sounding synths and playful strings – is excellent. It would be a very good choice of single. In all a very well-produced enjoyable song, with the vocals again led by Lilja.
‚Battered‘ comes around – an electronica beat drives it, and it sounds a little more aggressive and punchy, but the quality is again a little questionable. Musically, it’s difficult to fault, but the vocal style favoured in this track, as well as some ‚watch your back – watch your step‘ lyrical advice are ill-advised. Title track ‚Dry Land‘ closes the LP, with a more down-beat offering, gentle beats and supporting strings. Again there is a sense of longing and lamentation, ‚my body feels all the crushes and cries‘ as well as a lyric about ‚shaking off tears‘. In their quiet, more sombre moments such as this, they do play the minimalist electronica card pretty well.
This record starts off with purpose and drive, with two or three tracks raising expectations which the rest of the record fails to live up to, in truth. An early flourish and a dramatic drop – saved only by ‚Moonstone‘ towards the end. A touch disappointing as a record, but if you want some good singles, look no further.
22.01.2012 PL-Warszawa – Powi?kszenie
23.01.2012 PL-Kraków – Forty Kleparz
24.01.2012 PL-Wroclaw – Puzzle
25.01.2012 PL-Pozna? – Blue Note
31.01.2012 Potsdam – Waschhaus
01.02.2012 Leipzig – Werk 2
02.02.2012 Würzburg – Cairo
03.02.2012 Frankfurt – Das Bett
04.02.2012 CH-Thun – Mokka
05.02.2012 CH-Wil – Gare de Lion
06.02.2012 Heidelberg – Häll
07.02.2012 Nürnberg – Club Stereo
08.02.2012 Göttingen – Apex
09.02.2012 Mainz – Schon Schön
10.02.2012 Magdeburg – Projekt 7
11.02.2012 Dresden – Scheune