Iiris – “Hope” EP

We first encountered Iiris at Iceland Airwaves 2011, opening the on-venue set at NASA on Thursday night (below). I’d be lying if I said we went there to see her that night – we were actually there to see Lára Rúnars, or, more precisely, her lead guitarist, who earlier that day had been our guide on an ATV tour we’d taken along Iceland’s black sand coastline. But as soon as Iiris started into her first song I was completely and totally captivated by her powerful voice and her dense, slightly mysterious brand of pop music. I probably shot 200 photos of her 40 minute set that night.

Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane, 2011

We ran into her again two nights later at the Reykjavik Art Museum. We’d gotten there as the doors opened to stake out seats in the front of the small pedestrian balcony to ensure prime spots for that night’s closing band, Gusgus. Iiris came in a bit later, by herself, somehow so much smaller than she’d been on stage, a 20-year-old young woman out by herself in a foreign city, knowing no one, who wanted to see Gusgus play. The disparity between her on-stage and off-stage presences was striking to me. The brash confidence replaced by a level of vulnerability that actually gave me a whole new sense of her music. This was the person who created those songs. The yin and the yang. And I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

We’ve followed Iiris’ career from afar since then, making a point of tracking down her award-winning debut LP The Magic Gift Box (2012) when we were in Finland a year later because we couldn’t find in the US (Iiris is from Estonia, just “across the water” from Helsinki). I was super excited when I heard that her new EP was coming out on vinyl, and I was excited when it arrived in the mail from Estonia the other day, vinyl intact despite the USPS best efforts to mangle it.

Hope and The Magic Gift Box have both similarities and differences. The similarities rest with it being on the slightly darker, more mysterious side of pop music, heavily influenced by electronic and dance, but with just a tinge of melancholy, a dash of yearning. Hope amplifies these elements, creating a less poppy, more psychedelic musical canvas for Iiris’ voice to wander across, not so much a lost soul, but one that is seeking… something… and I’m not sure that even she knows what it is, but from the sound of it, she’s enjoying the journey.

Iiris’ voice is impeccable, her range arresting. The way it dances across the top of the rich, dense music on the EP’s title track “Hope” will literally cause you to hold your breath, and then when she drops to a deeper register… signing doesn’t get much than this. To hear this song is to hear pop approaching perfection, a soul laid bare, but in a pure way, not the expression of emotional pain we often experience in these seminal moments in music.

Hope is much more of an introspective, down-tempo album than it’s predecessor. That’s a dangerous game to play when you’ve established your pop credentials, but Iiris pulls it off, advancing herself in the unexpected direction, away from what is easy and popular and towards what is more genuine and real. How every woman in the world isn’t listening to “Iridecent Love” [sic] on continuous loop on their iPods right now, I have no idea; it’s only because they’ve never heard the song before.

Iiris is the best-kept secret in music today.

You HAVE to go listen to some Iiris, right now, on her Soundcloud page HERE. And if you love it, order yourself a copy.