Assistant Editor Ryan Bradley's weekly exploration of great global music, in collaboration with Nat Geo Music.
The mercury is beginning to fall in earnest here in New York City. Whenever this happens, I find myself listening to music from cold places—Finland, Sweden, and Iceland, mostly. Iceland especially. So must the good people at NG Music. In the past few weeks, they've posted a review of Emilíana Torrini's new album, Me and Armini, and a bang-up concert video of Björk, bashing a snare drum wth Sigor Rós to their song, "Gobbledigook."
These three bands are Iceland's most popular worldwide, and nicely illustrate the startlingly diverse range of music that comes from this small island nation in the middle of the North Atlantic. There is also great electronica and hardcore metal in Iceland, but for the sake of keeping everyone's ears focused on the cold weather, I'm going to stick to the well-known stuff. It has interesting origins in religious hymns and 1960s rock. The band Trubrot is some kind of starting point. So is the band Voces Thules. Watch them perform Ice and Fire, and then watch Björk and Sigor Rós with Goobledegook. You have right there a nice compression of Icelandic music history in the last two decades/centuries.
Emilíana Torrini: born to an Italian father and Icelandic mother, raised in Reykjavík, made her first album "as a joke" (her words) when she was 17. Her first major record, 2005's Fisherman's Woman, is her best, and I must have listened to it no less than 68 times during one particularly cold Chicago winter. My favorite track is "Heartstopper," but the whole thing is everything a good acoustic confessional album should be: sad, happy, clever, gorgeous.
Sigor Rós is the only of these three I've had the pleasure of seeing live and—wowie—what a show. There are, technically, only four members of the band but they usually play with more (this year's tour is an exception). They make soaring, orchestral, ethereal music that is, not surprisingly, used in many, many films. If you like Radiohead, I can say with confidence that you will like Sigor Rós.
Björk is, after bad mortgages (zing!), Iceland's biggest export. She's the country's most well-known musician—a musical prodigy on par with Stevie Wonder—and cut her first record at the ripe old age of 11. She's also crazy experimental, and for this she is loved and loathed by many. Listen to her biggest hits ("It's Oh So Quiet," "Army of Me," and "Hyperballad") to get a sense of her ridiculous range and bonkers music videos. And she looks like a wood-nymph and dresses like one, too.
Finally, here is a gem of a piece by recent MacArthur Genius grantee, Alex Ross, on his trip on Reykjavík: Ice Pop. I swear I wrote "startlingly diverse" to describe Iceland's musical range before I read the Ross piece, but I'm glad I am in agreement with a certified Genius.