Review by Brynjar Vatnsdal, photo and song clip courtesy of Kimi Records.
When a band is an established and a notoriously good live band, the transition into a studio album can sometimes be difficult. How on Earth can you be expected to transfer the energy an audience feels during a live show into an album played on home stereos of various quality?
This is the task FM Belfast, a band that has made a name for itself as one of the best live acts around, had to take on with their debut album How to make friends.
FM Belfast formed in late 2005 as a studio project by Árni Rúnar Hlödversson and Lóa Hlín Hjálmtýsdóttir. The band remained a duo until the 2006 Iceland Airwaves festival when it performed live as a fully-fledged band for the first time.
The members now vary from three to eight depending on who is available at showtime. The core of FM Belfast is made up of Hlödversson (Plúseinn, Hairdoctor, Motion Boys) and Hjálmtýsdóttir, along with Árni Vilhjálmsson (Motherfuckers in the house).
Other band members include Sveinbjörn Hermann Pálsson (Terrordisco), Örvar Thóreyjarson Smárason (múm, Borko, Skakkamanage), Björn Kristjánsson (múm, Borko, Skakkamanage), Birgitta Birgisdóttir and Eiríkur Orri (múm, Kira Kira, Benni Hemm Hemm).
Unlike many similar acts, who borrow heavily from the ‘80s, FM Belfast resists the temptation of overloading their music with various sounds one might find amusing. In fact, the arrangements are refreshingly minimalistic.
A simple beat and a tight wall of synthesizers are usually the backbones of rather straightforward melodies. This gives the music a cold and somewhat distant feeling, which is reminiscent of synth groups such as early Depeche Mode, Soft Cell or even Human League.
Much like the last of those bands, a significant part of FM Belfast’s charm lies in the interplay between the male and female vocals. In fact, most of the musical decoration comes from Hjálmtýsdóttir’s ever-changing vocal usage, which is in stark contrast to Hlödversson’s monotone mumbling. This contrast works like a charm.
The album is a fairly even affair; there are no real low points but no distinct high either. “Par Avion” had proven itself a radio hit and deservedly so—it’s probably the album’s catchiest song—even though “Underwear” and “Optical” could easily be contenders for that title as well.
Despite the album being written by the band, it also includes two semi-covers. They’re not complete covers because they merely borrow lyrics from older songs. In both instances the original artists are fittingly only credited for the lyrics.
The first one is “Pump,” a laid-back rendition of Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam.” By itself it’s actually quite funny, but in the context of the album it sticks out like a sore thumb.
The second is “Lotus,” a completely new song featuring the lyrics to Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name,” which is really hilarious given how different the song is from the original.
All in all, FM Belfast does a fairly good job of transferring their live madness into the studio. But if you like this album you shouldn’t miss out on the next chance to see FM Belfast live. Nothing beats the sheer energy of their live performances.
Listen to a clip of track #6 “Par Avion” from How to make friends by FM Belfast.
The album is available on the website of Kimi Records.
Brynjar Vatnsdal – [email protected]
Brynjar Vatnsdal is a biomedical engineer by profession and a devoted music fan and record collector. He has a collection of more than 1,000 CDs and vinyl records spanning the past 50 years of musical history, both local and international.