Review by Brynjar Vatnsdal, photo and part of song courtesy of Sena.
The Icelandic reggae scene is not big. It basically consists of one band, Hjálmar. Well, in fact it is only half a band, as the other half of the band members are Swedish. This band thus obviously was considered somewhat different when it burst into the music scene in 2004 with its debut album Hljódlega af stad and its follow-up Hjálmar in 2005.
Surprisingly, following the huge success of those two albums, Hjálmar announced their untimely break-up, allegedly because of the difficulty of the band members living in two different countries.
In early 2007 however, Hjálmar announced their comeback (though a comeback is perhaps too strongly put after only one year of absence). It started with a few gigs and a release of a single in spring, followed by most of the band members forming Senuthjófarnir, a back-up band for Icelandic rock legend Megas on his twin masterpieces Frágangur and Hold er mold, both released in 2007, and the triumphant tour that followed. In September news got out that Hjálmar were in the studio making their third album, and anticipation rose. The album was recorded in just over a week and released in the regular pre-Christmas tsunami of new albums.
In the wake of the new album’s release, the Swedes announced their departure from the band and members of indie outfit Flís were recruited as replacements. Whether this means the birth of the first all-Icelandic reggae band or the death of Hjálmar as a reggae group remains to be seen.
Ferdasót starts off very well, the album’s opening track is a slow religious piece called “Leidin okkar allra.” This is quite simply a beautiful hymn, the best song of the album and unlike anything else on it. This is followed by “Vísa úr Álftamýri” which is more traditionally Hjálmar, a reggae song but with a brilliant bass line and a soothing organ sound that make the song special. The album’s third song “Hafid” is written by Sigrídur Eythórsdóttir and one of only two tracks not written by guitarist and vocalist Thorsteinn Einarsson, and perhaps therefore it sounds so different. The intro unexpectedly reminds me of something Kim Larsen (Larsen is a Danish rock icon, quite popular in Iceland) could have done in the eighties. As much as Kim Larsen is a guilty pleasure of mine, the song hits a nerve, it has a groove that is hard to resist.
After the first three songs, the rest of the album is more in line with the band’s previous albums. The lyrics are all good and some even brilliant, and the sound of the album is impeccable. The problem is just that the songs, apart from the first three, all sound similar and are, in all honesty, quite dull. By the fifth or sixth number I am usually thinking about something completely different as the album fails to capture my attention, which is frustrating after the excellent start.
All in all Ferdasót is at its best brilliant but at its worst dull and monotone. The reggae mold is becoming restricting and the best efforts of the album are when that mold is broken.
Listen to a part of track #1 "Leidin okkar allra" from Ferdasót by Hjálmar.
BV – [email protected]
Brynjar Vatnsdal is a biomedical engineer by profession and a devoted music fan and record collector. He has a collection of almost 1,000 CDs and vinyl records which span the past 50 years of musical history, both local and international.