Mr. Silla – “Hands On Hands” (2019)

Hands On Hands is the second solo album by Sigurlaug Gísladóttir under the moniker Mr. Silla. Gísladóttir has collaborated with a range of artists over the years, though she’s best known for her vocal duties with múm. Hands On Hands finds her exploring soundscapes of electro-dream-pop, the compositions restrained and understated despite the lush way the music fills space. The first half of title track is a masterpiece of simplicity before a mid-song interlude that introduces layer upon vocal layer and changing its entire complexion. “Gloria” is the must up-tempo piece on Hands On Hands, a virtual pop explosion when compared to its predecessors, creating a feeling being outside in the sun with the grass between your toes.

Hands On Hands is available for listening and purchase on the Mr. Silla Bandcamp page HERE.

múm – “When Girls Collide” 12″ Picture Disk (2013)

múm is one of those bands that confuses me. I feel like I should like them more than I do. It’s not that I don’t like their music; it’s fine. But when I see how insanely passionate people are about them, how deeply the band seems to connect with their core audience, I feel like I’m missing something. I want to have that feeling too! It’s kind of the same thing with a few other Icelandic performers who have devoted, loyal followings (some small, some large) like Ólafur Arnalds and Sigur Rós. I like them too. But not the same way that others do. For some reason with these quieter, non-traditional-style performers I find that lack of connection a little harder to accept than when it comes to knowing that there are people out there way into The Who or Rush, more standard rock fare that I think is fine but who I don’t care about enough to even buy any of their albums. I don’t feel like I’m “missing” something by not loving 2112, but I do about not understanding the near rapture I see in people’s eyes at an Ólafur Arnalds concert.

There really isn’t much point in me going into the background of múm – there’s tons out there online about the band already. At the most basic level, they’ve been around since the late 1990s, vary in size, and play a sort of an electronic-meets-classical style that still retains a pop core. In Iceland they were initially lumped in with the “krútt” scene, a genre label that those saddled with it hated probably as much as Seattle bands hate “grunge.” For an explanation of krútt I defer to the esteemed Icelandic music historian Dr. Gunni and his 2013 book, Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland:

Krútt means “cute” or “cutie pie,” something that is irresistibly attractive in a
childlike and naive way. When mentioned in connection with music, krútt
brings out images of lank and tattered young people playing strange but
cute music. (p. 192)

I can see why someone wouldn’t be thrilled with that label, unless perhaps they were literally making music for kids. But I sort of get the general vibe. These are often quiet, soft spoken performers who play music that is superficially simple and pop-like, but is really much deeper.

Even though I’m not particularly a fan of múm, Ingvar at Lucky Records put aside a copy of this limited edition (of 200) picture disc single of “When Girls Collide” for me, and I figured I’d give it a shot, because Ingvar seldom steers me wrong. Our plan was to see the band perform at a Reykjavik church during Airwaves, though we ultimately decided to skip it in order to see Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band and stake out a spot for the John Grant and Omar Souleyman shows later in the evening. I was told by those who attended the church concert that it was epic, though I have to admit it sounded like the whole thing was overly dramatic and serious. We did catch up with múm later at an off-venue show at KEX Hostel, which was absolutely packed and enjoyable, though nothing that I connected with in a major way (the big mug of beer helped).

“When Girls Collide” is a song from the band’s 2013 release Smilewound, and opens with some very minimal, poppy keyboards before moving into a more electronic sound. The vocals are a bit modulated and sort of whispy, kind of floating around within the song. The music seems simple, and there’s an innocence to the entire song that is, I have to admit, charming. The two tracks on the B side, “Saddle Up” and “Peberturk,” aren’t on the album, so I’m not entirely sure if these are new songs or maybe some older material. “Saddle Up” has a minimalist and very electro sound, reminding me just a tiny bit of some of the slower songs by Bloodgroup, while “Peberturk” is deeper and richer though more of a purely ambient track. Good stuff.

Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 4

Is it just me, or has Airwaves been insanely busy this year? I suppose that should be expected with 220 or so bands playing somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 shows over the course of five days, but it still feels like we’ve been on the go non-stop since we got here, which is funny since we’ve done this before so it’s not like we have a lot of touristy stuff we felt the need to squeeze in. Don’t get me wrong, though, because this is by far the best weather we’ve ever had on any of our seven trips to Iceland (sunny and in the high 30s, with almost no wind at all), so walking around town has been spectacular, and the quality of the bands from top to bottom has been fantastic. I just think I’m going to need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

On Day 4 we finally made our first trek of the trip down to KEX Hostel, where KEXP radio has been doing live broadcasts and filming shows more or less throughout the festival. It’s an intimate setting, and if you get there early like we did for one of our favorite Icelandic bands, Bloodgroup, you can get yourself a spot right in the front and literally be face-to-face with the band. Their set was impressive both for its sound quality and the band’s incredible energy – I was worried someone was going to take a spill with all the bouncing around they did in that small space with its tangle of cords all over the floor. This was the fifth time we’d seen them live (including their one visit to Seattle a few years back when they played at the High Dive), and the first time they had a live drummer with them. I have to say, he was great and I liked his sound a lot more than the typical drum machine. Their set was tight, mostly material from Tracing Echoes but also with one classic thrown in, one of our favorites “These Arms.”

They were followed by múm, a difficult to categorize band – sort of chamber folk pop. múm packed the house and we opted for a spot in the back where we could hear but not see the band, but at the same time not be more or less trapped at the front by a wall of people. I didn’t know if I was going to like them, but I shouldn’t have been worried. Their set seemed to fly by and I’m glad we got a chance to experience one of Iceland’s treasured musical groups.

We opened the on-venue portion of the night at the small rock club Gamli Gaukurinn, a place where we’ve seen lots of great shows in the past. Gamli underwent a facelift since our last visit, so our favorite corner table was gone. The sound system may have been upgraded as well because it was clean and insanely loud. Almost too loud at times (does that mean I’m officially old? Maybe. But louder isn’t always better.). Skepna opened with an in-you-face hard rock/heavy metal assault. They were followed by Fears, a band that really impressed us with their post-punkish, black leather jacket rock sound. We tried to catch up with them after their set to pick up a CD but with no luck, so we may need to check iTunes. Definitely good enough to warrant future listens. Sign was next, and there was some serious head-banging going on in the front row during their metal set. The singer/guitarist took a potentially dangerous spill while balancing on a monitor and the riot barrier, but recovered nicely and continued playing even as he was in a pile on the floor. That, my friends, is rock ‘n’ roll.

That brought us to one of our favorite Icelandic bands, Legend. This was the second time we’d seen them on the trip (amazingly the first time all trip we’d seen the same band twice), and frankly they went off. Travis from the Guerilla Candy blog made it just in time to see them and came away impressed as well. These guys are intense. INTENSE. The sound was great and we all agreed that the singer seemed to mix up his cadences a bit more this time, give the songs a more “live” feel. I’m not sure how he was able to stay upright though given all the flash bulbs going off right in his face. As in maybe six inches from his eyes. C’mon photogs, you know better than that. I get that the dude has a compelling look, but help a brother out. Regardless, great set. Looking forward to the new 7″ they have coming out before the end of the year.

From there it was off to Harpa with the the plan of seeing FM Belfast. Before them was the American folk act Midlake who are obviously great musicians, but just not my cup of Brennivín. British techno DJ Jon Hopikns was up next with an hour long set that while good frankly had so much bass and so much high pitched squealing that it literally became uncomfortable on our ears. So much so that we literally bailed out before FM Belfast, feeling totally spent. Fortunately a slice of hot pizza at 1:30 AM did a lot to restore our confidence in humanity even if it didn’t help our ringing ears.

Hard to believe there’s only one more day left…

Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 2 (“…and a cassette”)

For the first time during Airwaves 2013 I’m writing with most of my brain working – not hallucinating from lack of sleep on our travel day nor at 2:30 AM after a complete day of concerts. So hopefully I’m more coherent, because if not I’ve got real problems.

We went over to Lucky Records today to pay for and pick up all the stuff that I’ve had on hold, and even I was surprised at the volume, which is what happens when you ask to have a few things put aside, but spread out those requests over the course of weeks. That being said, I was stoked about what I had waiting for me, both the stuff I picked out as well as a few nuggets Gestur and Ingvar put aside, like a super limited edition múm picture disc, a couple of 45s, some random CDs, and yes, my dear readers, even a cassette. Let that last part sink in for a minute. This wasn’t a vintage cassette like the Snarl II compilation I wrote about recently. Oh no. This is brand spanking new industrial insanity dual effort from Iceland’s own AMFJ and Auxpan, and I’m looking forward to checking it out… assuming, of course, I still have a tape player floating around in my garage somewhere. Either that or I’ll have to sit in my wife’s car.

I have a stack of cool stuff to listen to when I get home, including new material from The Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band and Emilíana Torrini, plus used stuff by Björk, Purrkur Pillnikk, and some almost completely unknown Icelandic bands (well, at least unknown to anyone not from Iceland!). As near as I can tell I got about 27 records and 21 CDs (and one cassette!) so far… and frankly I don’t have room for much more – though I still need to hit up the flea market on Saturday. I can’t wait to get home and start listening! I’m not as much looking forward to cleaning all these records and having to reorganize my shelves… but that’s the price you pay.

We weren’t too inspired by the off-venue program today, but we had one band we wanted to catch – the industrial duo known as Ghostigital. Not too many bands can be as intense and weird as Ghostigital while still being awesome. This marked the fifth time we’ve seen them at Airwaves and as usual they did not disappoint, this time playing a small stage on the top floor of Reykjavik’s opera house Harpa, with the setting sun coming in through the angular windows on two sides and a crowd who was ready to get after it. And they brought it. There were a couple of songs from their latest album, Division of Culture and Tourism, plus a few I didn’t recognize. The small crowd (maybe 75 people?) was way into it and some people were seriously rocking out. This moved solidly into second place in my personal list of best shows this year, behind only Legend. We also caught part of Good Moon Deer’s set, some nice experimental electronic played by one guy on the controls and the other on the drums.


OK, while earlier I told you how amazing this post was going to be because I wasn’t sleep deprived… well… it’s now about 2 AM and we just got back from our second night of shows, so bear with me.

We spent most of the evening back at Harpa catching heavy metal and punk type shows. Momentum opened with their brand of psych metal, though it wore on me a bit as there wasn’t a lot that differentiated the songs in their set. Dimma, however, looked, acted, and sounded like rock stars, like metal gods from the bygone age of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The lead singer knew how to strike the poses and flat out hit the notes all the way through. These guys are a new favorite, and I’ll be looking for some of their stuff before we leave. Endless Dark followed with their own brand of quasi post-hardcore, a relatively large band with not one by two vocalists – though to be fair one was more a shouter/growler and the other a singer. Regardless, they were hard, fast, and awesome. Muck was next, and we saw them live when we were last in Reykjavik back in April. Some decent punk, but while I didn’t think it was anything terribly special, they probably had the largest crowd in that room tonight. Sólstafir was the band we really came to see, and while they were good their sound was a bit droning, sort of Icelandic cowboys (based on how they were dressed) singing like old Alice in Chains. Their style is a difficult one to pin down – I think their music takes a conscious effort to truly appreciate. A lot of people are way into them, and I feel like this is the kind of band I should totally love, but I just don’t quite get them. We snuck out of there a bit early to head over to another room within Harpa to listen to a few songs by Yo La Tengo, who were decent in a kind of folk rock way.

After that it was off to the waffle truck for some amazing waffles before taking a chance and strolling to Dolly Bar downtown to see if our friend Ingvar, aka DJ Lucky, was still spinning his Afro-beat dance set there. We’d only found out about this earlier in the evening, but we were able to catch the last 10 minutes or so in a packed sweat-box full of dancers, drinkers, and people snorting unknown substances. At one point I saw a guy in a police uniform walking through and thought some folks were going to get busted, but Holly pointed out that his shirt was unbuttoned pretty much down to his pants, so… probably off duty? Tough to say.

Oh yeah, and we saw the northern lights tonight just up the street from our apartment. So check that one off the list of things to see.

God I need some sleep…