By the amount of attention he’s receiving over here, you’d think that Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson (known simply as Ásgeir) was the next big thing to come out of Iceland and ‘make it’ internationally. And you’d be absolutely right.
The singer-songwriter has one foot in folk territory and the other in electronica. Folky guitar and piano riffs are the main component of his sound, coupled with jaunty rhythms, rich brass and sumptuous vocal harmonies, whilst Ásgeir’s soft tenor purrs gently over the top. In The Silence and Was There Nothing?, for example, are pure folk tracks, the former slowly developing to incorporate militaristic drums, the latter a hushed ballad based on a lilting guitar pattern. At times it borders on Bon Iver territory.
It’s a world away from his most notorious Icelandic contemporaries – the weird and wonderful Björk and the majestic Sigur Rós. Unlike Sigur Rós, though, Ásgeir does sing in English – at least in this reworking of the album, originally entitled 'Dýrð í dauðaþögn' in his homeland (winning him the Album of the Year at the 2012 Icelandic Music Awards). Whilst the English lyrics certainly lose some of the poetic mystery of the original language, the music loses none of its potency.
It’s the electronic inflections, however, that set him apart from other folk acts and add an avant garde air that those other Icelandic acts are known for. The album is bookended by Higher and Soothe This Pain, which both have an almost James Blake feel about them with their processed beats and distorted organ, creating an overall framework in which Ásgeir becomes slowly more experimental. Summer Guest keeps things simple, beginning as a lively folk tune but eventually introducing a whirring synth melody upon its icy breeze; and the spine of lead single King and Cross is its spiky guitar riff, with touches of alien synths and beats. Torrent marks the halfway point of the album – with grittier, louder production – before it all descends into darker, moody territory with the melancholic Going Home and the breezy, glitchy Head in the Snow, before the frosty electric guitars of the album’s closer – its most experimental track.
The electronic influences are all subtle and underplayed and don’t impinge on the overall folk aesthetic. In this way, Ásgeir is bringing the genre into the modern era by crafting his own unique sound. Those songs relying more heavily on pure folk are lacking that unique quality, whilst his songwriting at times is missing a bit of gusto. Yet the quiet, contemplative feel is part of the charm of this beautiful and evocative album.
* King And Cross
* Going Home
* Soothe This Pain
Listen: 'In The Silence' is available now.