Berndsen – “Lover in the Dark”

In 2009 we were getting ready to fly to Reykjavik for our first Iceland Airwaves experience, and the folks at Airwaves were nice enough to put out a series of YouTube videos featuring various artists. The earliest of these were all in Icelandic, before they eventually switched to English, and one of the first featured Berndsen. Even though I couldn’t understand a word of it, I was intrigued. Here’s this redheaded dude with a crazy-ass beard wearing a pink sweater with a heart on it, and his music video clips look like they’re out of some demented early 80s video game. We didn’t catch Berndsen at that first Airwaves, but we did eventually track him down at an off-venue show in 2011, and he didn’t disappoint.

He wore the same sweater he had on in that 2009 video, which was an immediate win in my book. We’d bought his CD Lover in the Dark earlier in the trip and were all captivated by what sounded like some really good 80s-style pop, with lots of synths (courtesy of Hermigervill, who we saw do an electronic set later in the festival) and drum machine beats. The bunny rabbit hat was like icing on my Breakfast Club cake.

I mean, seriously. Check my man out. Now mind you, we’re standing around in an outdoor tent that is shaking like crazy from all the wind, but he’s just up there like 1985 called and invited him to get down. After the show he milled about in the crowd talking to people and posing for some pictures. A really classy guy.

My initial impressions of Lover in the Dark was that it was a solid synth-pop album, but later in the trip my opinion evolved. I listened to Berndsen on the iPod while we rode on a bus through the Icelandic “countryside” (think volcanic rocks and moss, with absolutely ZERO signs of civilization in every direction… then imagine something more desolate, and you’ll get the idea) on our way to the spa and I was struck by the tinge of sadness in many of his lyrics. If you don’t really pay attention to the lyrics you’d think these were poppy love songs, but in fact many are about lost loves and relationship confusion.

I don’t know what love is about,
I don’t know why I feel so sad,
Chasing the clouds around,
I thought I loved you…

There are some impressive, yet simple, soundscapes on this album, which is really a showcase for Berndsen’s vocal stylings (which are modulated to some extent to fit the music). The opening songs are simply amazing pop music – “Lover in the Dark”, “Supertime”, and “Young Boy” are the most notable tracks in my mind, though there really aren’t any clunkers here.

Lover in the Dark was just recently released on vinyl (pink, naturally), and I fully intend on picking up a copy when at Airwaves this year, even though I already have the CD. We’re hoping to see him live again as well – his live show is top notch, and I believe he has some new material.

You are only a young boy,
With too much love to give,
So why do you cry?

Which came first? The music, or the misery? That’s a paraphrase of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, but it’s sort of true of Berndsen as well. These are great pop riffs with clean sounds, but a hint of sadness throughout many of the songs. Not in a bad way, though. This isn’t “sad bastard” music – it gets the toes tapping, and you’ll find yourself singing it softly while it’s on, even if it’s just in the background. Check out his music videos on YouTube, and prepare to be amazed.

Good work, Berndsen. Hope to see you again at Airwaves, brother.

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