If your musical taste is taken by a group of Vikings singing a cappella in a German railway station, you will like Árstíðir. They’re an Icelandic band, mostly strings players, with a pretty big following, in Iceland, Germany and the US. I now have their third album, Hvel, which was crowdfunded entirely through Kickstarter. I played Hvel on repeat for most of yesterday afternoon. It went very well with a baking frenzy, and embroidered itself into a cross-stitch bird emblem I happened to be working on. I looked at the bird this morning and heard Hvel again in my ear’s memory. I chopped fruit for marmalade, warbling happily to their harmonies when the strings got loud enough to hide behind. What great lung-filling passionate music. Half the tracks are in Icelandic, the rest with no vocals or in English. One of the pleasures of listening to songs in English written by non-native speakers (I do a lot of that listening to Flemish bands) is that the language is remade and expressed more purely. A lot of the time it can go horribly wrong, of course, but not with Árstíðir: their song-writing is beautiful.
The tunes are slow, straightforward melodies that swell and change form with the repetition of the strings and voices, and a steady plucked bass string. Great swathes of searing cello reminded me of the soundtrack to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, since that’s mostly played by Yo Yo Ma. The standout tracks are ‘Things You Said’ (the single), ‘Shine’ and the stunning instrumental ‘Ro’.
The album artwork is glorious and intricate, looking like midnight blue mica fragmentation as if seen through infrared. Their website is pretty nifty too, double-layered windows of images and words, but if you paddle around in those cold blue waters, you’ll find what you need to know. They’re touring Germany and the US soon, so run for tickets.
Hvel is released on March 6, but you can pre-order it through the band’s page.