KEXP at Iceland Airwaves 2014, Day 2: Árstíðir

Iceland Airwaves
Isaac Kaplan-Woolner

Our first live Iceland Airwaves show of the day from Kex Hostel in Reykjavik was Icelandic indie-folk quintet Árstíðir. Formed in 2008 as a guitar-based group, they've since added piano, violin, and cello to the mix. They incorporate classical, minimalist, and even some prog rock elements into their beautiful folk sound. They recently recorded their third full length album, which was successfully funded through kickstarter. It is expected to be released soon on their own record label.

The bar/lounge was already full well before Árstíðir's 2pm start. Music lovers were pressing forward eagerly for a view. The first song, "Someone Who Cares", had beautiful harmonies and a high, sweet, clear sound. The group draws easy comparisons to Crosby, Stills & Nash, Simon and Garfunkel, or other harmony-rich folk groups. But they also have a clearly defined sound all their own. Gently finger picked guitars were bolstered by lush cello and violin and softly played piano. Many of their songs have a satisfying ebb and flow, and this group's live performance today was immaculate. The second song, "nú gleymist ég", was led by a high piano line before the rest of the band joined in. Sung in Icelandic, it featured more lovely harmonies and a sweeping sound. The strings held back a bit on this one at first, then a big cello line added dynamic shifts in tone and volume.These songs sounded carefully crafted, intentional, crystalline. Baritone guitar player Gunnar Már Jakobsson took the lead on several tunes, but the whole group (save for the cello accompaniment) sang beautifully throughout. The third song, "Moonlight", was one of transition and change. "It's time to turn things over, and time to find your way," sang Jakobsson. But this was a hopeful, optimistic sort of change. We imagine this was the perfect song for folks in Seattle who wake up early to KEXP. But things took a bit of a darker tone on the fourth song, "Things You Said". Guitar player Daniel Auðunsson said the song was the group's new single. This bitter breakup dirge finds the singer looking back over the ashes of a love lost, wondering how he missed the signs for so long. "Everything she used to be led me blindly," went the song – sad, yet still bittersweet; cracked, yet not shattered. The sounds stacked into a big, emotive crescendo of strings, then abruptly ended, leaving a momentary echo in the air before the crowd erupted in applause. "You guys are the first to hear that one live," said Auðunsson, and we were lucky for it.

The fifth song, "You Again", again began with a plaintive piano line. It too was about a lost relationship. "If love has the answers, why aren't you here," they sang. This aching tune again featured Árstíðir's signature rise and fall, and dropped back down to just the piano line for a quiet finish. Before their final song the group gave a shout out to our online and on-air audience, saying, "thanks for tuning in, it's been an honor." Then they launched in to "Shades", which began with a slowly increasing violin before deep, driving cello notes kicked in. This song was higher tempo, more energetic, and the cello and baritone guitar added an almost rocking effect to the acoustic show. This group really knows how to use quiet and silence to good dramatic effect, leaving space to layer sounds back in for an epic build. Heads bobbed, and the audience exploded in loud applause as the last gorgeous note faded away.

Stay tuned next for Júníus Meyvant live on KEXP at 8:00AM PST. Find out more about our broadcast during Iceland Airwaves here.

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