The Icelandic rap scene reached saturation point in 2018, with new releases coming thick and fast, creating a fog of similar-sounding albums to sort through. But one notable development was the emergence of a more sensual and emotional RnB sound. GDRN did it better than anyone else on her confident debut with slick production, catchy songs, and a muted, measured feel throughout. GDRN’s voice is silky smooth, and “Hvað Ef” (“What If?”) received a well-deserved wave of appreciation in her her homeland’s media—her album is distillation of Iceland’s pop zeitgeist.
♪♫ Listen: “Lætur Mig” + album stream
GDRN on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
There were also plenty of pleasingly experimental releases to be found. After stints as a touring musician for Björk and Sigur Rós, SiGRÚN started making solo music several years ago, and her series of EPs developed a sharp edge with the release of her debut LP. SiGRÚN’s bold voice cuts through a mixture of broken-up rhythms and sparse electronic soundscapes: you can hear glimmers of influence from the Icelandic greats of recent decades, and see a promising path ahead leading into exciting new territory.
♪♫ Listen: “Vex” + album stream
SiGRÚN on Facebook, Instagram, www.
The bagdad brothers are a young and energetic indie-pop collective who make anthemic, charming, rose-tinted songs with a warm halcyon feel. Their tracks go from prom-night slow-dance vibes to upbeat singalongs, all written with a preternatural gift for hooks and choruses. Singer Bjarni Daníel’s crooned vocal style is a bold choice, and the JÆJA EP was in constant rotation during the light nights of the summer party season. Their nostalgic sound is wholesome and retro, but it also somehow feels like a wish for a better world.
♪♫ Listen: “Malar í Kassanum” + album stream
bagdad brothers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
“Nott eftir Nott”
2018 was a huge year for the Reykjavik coldwave trio Kælan Mikla (whose name can be roughly translated as: “Great Cool”). They were hand picked to play at Robert Smith’s Meltdown festival in London. Smith was so enamoured with Kælan Mikla’s icy-but-impassioned sound that they later opened at The Cure’s Hyde Park anniversary show. Their third LP shows why, condensing all of their considerable live power into an arresting cycle of songs about alienation, loneliness and self-doubt.
♪♫ Listen: “Hvernig kemst ég upp?” + album stream
Kælan Mikla on Facebook, Instagram.
Sneaked out in late December, Hermigervill’s long-awaited second album was like an early Christmas present. Heavily influenced by the synth sounds of the 1980s, his second album felt like he snapped into the present whilst retaining all of the analogue charm that has made him one of Iceland’s most respected producer-performers. “II” is packed with bright, shiny, propulsive electronica and packed with memorable tunes, as well as an infectious, energetic sense of fun. A keeper that deserves more than to be lost in the festive shuffle.
♪♫ Listen: “Solitaire” + album stream
Hermigervill on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
The colourful presence, druidic gaze and musical eccentricity of Teitur Magnússon has made him a favourite on his home shores. Album “Orna” was a strong presentation of his wonky, unpretentious acid-pop sound, and catchy singles like “Hverra Manna?” and the title track came with brilliant psychedelic videos that are worth seeking out in their own right. Each track takes its own gentle time to get where it’s going, with unexpected flute or brass arrangements swooping into the mix; vocal cameos from Mr. Silla and dj. flúgvel og geimskip are an added bonus.
♪♫ Listen: “Orna” + album stream
Teitur Magnusson on Facebook.
A couple of years since their sudden emergence with the instant classic single “Water Plant,” aYia finally unveiled their debut album in November of 2018. A fuller exploration of their frosty universe, “aYia” feels as much like an environment as an album; their vast, echoing space is full of ingenious production flourishes, abstract-poetic lyrics, and slow burning melodies that will float back into your mind when you least expect it. The videos for “Slow” and “Sparkle” offer a striking visual interpretation of their sound.
♪♫ Listen: “Slow” + album stream
aYia on Facebook.
After several years spent on soundtrack work and collaborations, Ólafur Arnalds returned with his best album to date. “Re:member” is a perfect distillation of Ólafur’s aesthetic, tying together ingenious uses of technology with sparse, twinkling piano compositions and crisp string arrangements. The overall mood of the album manages to be bright and spacious rather than nostalgic or overly heavy; this engaging lightness of spirit makes it stand out from the pack. The gorgeously designed transparent vinyl edition deserves a place in your record collection.
♪♫ Listen: “Unfold” + album stream
Ólafur Arnalds on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.
Since her emergence as one of the twin voices of múm, Gyða Valtýsdóttir has been on a remarkable musical and personal journey that took her from Russian cello school, to the dusty deserts of Morocco, to leafy upstate New York, and finally back to Iceland. Along the way, she did a lot of slow and subtle songwriting that culminated in this wonderful solo album. Gyða’s rich spirituality radiates from every song in a way that can be almost overpowering, in the best possible way. Listen, and surrender.
♪♫ Listen: “Moonchild” + album stream
GYÐA on Facebook, Instagram.
“Light Is Liquid”
Another founder member of múm, Örvar Smárason quietly released a striking solo record in 2018. “Light is Liquid” is a crisp, brightly produced LP characterised by Vocodered voices, chill synth arrangements and strong melodies; the English-language lyrics are introspective musings on everything from being in love (or not), to apocalyptic imaginings and just getting through the challenging times we live in. You’ll hear lovely vocal contributions from JFDR and sillus, and as soon as the needle leaves the record, you’ll feel compelled to play it again… and again… and again.
♪♫ Listen: “Photoelectric” + album stream
Örvar Smárason on Facebook, Instagram.