KEXP at Iceland Airwaves, day 1: Hjaltalín

Iceland Airwaves
Katy McCourt-Basham
Photos by Matthew B. Thompson

Next on KEXP’s Iceland Airwaves broadcast live from Kex Hostel is Icelandic indie-rock band Hjaltalín. The band formed in 2004, but didn’t release their debut record Sleepdrunk Seasons for almost three years. It was certainly worth the wait, as the album quickly drew significant national attention. Things only got better for Hjaltalín, as their 2012 release Enter IV achieved much acclaim (including multiple Icelandic Music Awards) and launched them onto the international stage. Their latest record was a score for the 2014 silent film Days of Gray, for which they won an Icelandic Music Award for best alternative album. They draw influences from a wide range of genres, from 60’s pop to classical and electronica.

More people have packed into Kex to see Hjaltalín, and the anticipation is physically palpable. They were greeted with a deafening roar before launching into "Letter to [...]." Looking like the picture portrait of his viking ancestors, with long, icy-blonde hair and a full beard, singer Högni Egilsson's lovely voice is the immediate focus here, with the rest of the band ebbing and flowing quietly in the background. Sparse, floating strings add to the dreamy nature of the song.

Next was "Baronesse," a brand new song. Framed by warm tones and bass-ey digital beats, singer Sigríður Thorlacius' high, soulful voice, accented by faint violin, set a sad, but hopeful tone. "Crack in a Stone" was more upbeat and drum-heavy with a strong bass line. Both singers shared a duet in this almost jazzy tune. Their voices complement each other well over this genre-defying mix of indie rock, jazz, folk, and RnB.

Their new single "We Will Live for Ages" has an underlying atmospheric tone, with heavy kick drum and a bit of bass peppered in. The singing duties are shared by both singers, and the near-spoken-word, quick, jazzy vocals are gripping and distinctive. Their closing number, "We," is a longer, near epic piece, starting with vocals taking center stage. A long, dreamy interlude leads into the mellow, soulful second act of the song, the focus shifts, dropping into a frantic fervor and ending with a calm near-a cappella fade.

Rounding out night one of the broadcast is new Icelandic post-punk band Fufanu. Watch live here!

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