Its taken me a little while to get around to this post after first coming across Stafrænn Hákon as part of the ever excellent KEXP podcast series (in this case vol 221 of Music That Matters showcasing mainly Icelandic bands playing the Airwaves Festival in Iceland). For such a small place Iceland certainly punches above its weight in quality music. Of course Sigur Ros come to mind but so do the delicious Aniima (posted elsewhere on this blog) and the many bands on the KEXP podcast. But whilst it may be possible, or merely tempting, to identify some common traits, in truth there seems to be a remarkable diversity and variety (tautology?) to that islands contemporary musical output.
I won’t waste space and effort covering the bands biog when there is an excellent and extensive one on their web site and repeated in sundry other places. Their web site streams this latest album, Sanitas, but it can also be bought, and delivered quickly, from their label. To hear a bit of live material KEXP have sessions on their web site as well, worth running along to in my opinion.
Despite the novelty of the band for me, there is something deeply familiar and comfortable about them, and that’s not intended as an insult in the slightest. Sanitas is apparently their sixth album and if rumour is right then this is continuation of a musical shift for them away from an electronica bent towards more mainstream rock sounds.
Be that as it may there is more than a little euphoria in the sounds to me, an unexpected but welcome combination of catchy tunes (how seventies does that sound?) but with big powerful sounds, songs that rather eat their way into the memory. At times it does seem an odd mix – occasionally vocals sounding a bit Badly Drawn Boy on tracks like Ratio 8:3 and then great squashy guitars sounds in a post rocky sort of way for Val Kilmer and the like.
Its an album I find myself coming back to again and again, almost comforting. Someone said in a review somewhere that its a band that wouldn’t frighten your parents (although much depends on your parents I suspect) and I guess that might be so, but it doesn’t make the music bland or safe, its much more seductive and enticing than that, it has an enveloping, siren quality that draws you in and keeps you.
All very fine stuff indeed but I have to say the artwork is decidedly odd…the slightly spooky doll photo on the front and a frankly hideous copy of Phil Collins from No Jacket Required on an inside fold. I have no idea what the cover is about and I don’t much care, the music is great.