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Bon Iver | Forum, Copenhagen, 05.11.2012

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Photos by Tom Spray (www.tom-spray.com)

Beach House

Bon Iver

Bon Iver

Bon Iver

LIVE REVIEW: Cate Le Bon, Jazzhouse, 09.11.2016

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Cate Le Bon live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

We were charmed when we first saw Cate Le Bon live at Roskilde this summer. But her show at Jazzhouse was the performance we really wanted from her. If that initial set left us wanting, it became clear that it was only ever a matter of translation.

As distinctive as Cate Le Bon’s ramshackle indie rock is — in particular her tuneful, quirky approach to Nico’s iconic vocal delivery — she’s not a very flashy performer. As a headliner, however, her personality comes through clearly. It’s in small touches, like the yelp at the end of “Duke” or the way the guitar outro on “How Do You Know?” deteriorates into an imprecise grind before springing directly into “I Can’t Help You.” It’s obviously well-rehearsed, but it’s a thrilling shot in the arm all the same.

Cate Le Bon live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

Because mostly what was lost in translation from the Roskilde performance was a question of energy. Cate Le Bon is understated in her performance, and her energy translates much better in Jazzhouse than on a Roskilde stage, where her little head tosses and subtle steps backward as she leans into a chord are lost to scale. And if we couldn’t infer that on our own, if we couldn’t see how much more comfortable she clearly is, she makes it pretty clear when she relates how pleased she and her band were when they arrived at Jazzhouse and saw the small stage near the bar upstairs. They were disappointed (or “terrified,” in Cate’s words) upon realizing they were playing in the main room.

But for this innate shyness, you can see the would-be rockstar, the guitarist who enjoys playing a solo. The frayed outro of “What’s Not Mine,” which unravels over the course of minutes, might not send her into spasms or even shake her from where she stands, but her absorption in clear. The details you can’t see from a festival stage that you can see from a few feet away in a tiny club is a reminder to us that the setting is an integral part of the experience. You can’t feel like you’re in on a secret when you’re standing in a field.

LIVE REVIEW: Haven Festival, 11-12.08.17

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Iggy Pop live at Haven Festival Copenhagen

With the disappearance of Trailer Park and Vanguard, Copenhagen has been missing a localised music festival that caters to more than just electronic music. On the face of it, this year’s Haven Festival is here to fill that void. Located in the post-industrial landscape of Refshaleøen on the outer edges of Copenhagen harbour, the festival is spread over a field (or Meadow, as they would have it) and former docks. The fetishised grittiness of the crumbling warehouses is juxtaposed by the view across the water, of the cruise ships at Langelinie, the Little Mermaid, and the custard-coloured Royal Yacht moored nearby.

The food and drink has been as much a part of the conversation in anticipation of the festival as the music, if not more so. Provided by mostly by Mikkeller and Meyers bakery, you can get all the microbrewed beer and organic barbecue you want, provided you are willing to cough up, queue for an hour and get lectured on the evils of supermarket bacon by a man in a leather apron. With a lineup including The National, Bon Iver, Feist and Iggy Pop, Haven is very consciously catering to an older, more moneyed crowd than most other Danish festivals.

Feist live at Haven Festival Copenhagen

With a unique and visually interesting setting, some of the most talked-about food in town and some big names, the worst you would expect to say about Haven is that it is expensive and a little on the dull, safe side. Unfortunately it ended up being a victim both of the weather and its own success. Funnelling crowds through a single bridge that connects the main field with the food court is hardly great crowd management, and failing to provide any shelter from the rain on Sunday hardly helped matters. This will get chalked down to inexperience, and is unlikely to do much to damage their ticket sales next year.

Friday’s lineup starts on a relatively mellow note, with folk-tinged indie from Conor Oberst and Lisa Hannigan, but in fairness all pales when compared to the main course of the entire festival, our main reason for being here at all: Iggy Pop. I have genuinely never witnessed a human being spread quite as much joy to a crowd as Professor Ignatius Pop himself, who very literally runs on stage, does a few odd pirouettes and hollers as mangled series of “fuckfuckffuckmotherfuckeerrrr” before launching into I Wanna Be Your Dog. It’s a ballsy move to have the Passenger within the first four songs of your set, but then again it’s ballsy to have not worn a shirt in about half a century. Everyone around me is sporting a perma-grin for the entire set.

Perfume Genius live at Haven Festival Copenhagen

The next day feels like a comedown from Iggy, and is certainly not improved by the rain that peppers Feist (light drizzle), Perfume Genius (moderate), and Liss (absolute fucking downpour). Feist makes the most effort to repel the weather, sometimes by claiming to see sun (sheer optimism) but mostly via her infectious good nature. Changing lyrics to celebrate three girls in the front row who are singing along to every line, or to recommend that people don’t take her words too literally (at the line “I would leave any party for you”), she almost succeeds in making us forget the rain. Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius has increased both his profile and the size of his backing band since we last saw him at Roskilde Festival, and Liss are sounding smoother than ever.

Sets at the two main stages are staggered in such a way that every hour and a half the entire festival decamps across the bridge in one direction or the other, and our only change to eat is by missing Bon Iver entirely. The shiitake okonomiyaki is worth that omission. Unsurprisingly, the National’s closing set is all bells and whistles and guest appearances. The band’s musical core, brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, are the cofounders of the festival alongside Claus Meyer and Mikkel Borg Bergsø, so naturally theirs is meant to be the crowning set of the festival. Joined on stage by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, This is the Kit and Kwami Liv on “I Need My Girl”, the National manage to sum up the day with the blessed absence of rain.

The National live at Haven Festival Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

LIVE REVIEW: Emmy the Great, Ideal Bar, 27.03.2017

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Emmy the Great by Alex Lake

It’s an interesting choice for an artist, especially an established artist, to start a show with a cover of someone else’s song. That Emmy the Great chose to start her gig at Ideal Bar with the Cranberries’ “Dreams” in Cantonese was an interesting artistic move, a moment for everyone who recognized the tune to feel clever, and a talking point about how the hallmark of a song’s popularity in Hong Kong is the number of Chinese cover versions of it (apparently there’s a techno one of “My Heart Will Go On” that we should all either seek out or avoid like the plague).

It’s a quirky but competent beginning, one that sets the tone for Emmy (née Emma-Lee Moss) to tell stories about songs and a childhood in Hong Kong. She’s alone on stage with her guitar and a pocket-sized synth set-up, but clearly comfortable with chatting about herself in a way that’s self-deprecatingly charming, at telling you little facts about songs that meander just the right amount.

In this solo set up, it’s interesting to see how much her style has changed from her debut album, First Love — written primarily for solo acoustic guitars at a time when everyone was drooling over Bon Iver and plotting to move to a cabin in the woods. Her work since then has come with more complete band arrangements, relying less on finger-picking, and when it’s played by her solo, it’s in a stripped back form. It’s clear that she has given thought to how she would perform them — even the requests she takes from the audience (she can only play half of them — one fellow is particularly bad about choosing songs she can remember).

The evening is best represented by Moss’s latest single, “Mahal Kita,” an upbeat pop song about foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. It’s a final look at the personal history she’s shared all evening and how it radiates beyond her. It looks beyond the exploitation of workers and focuses on what they do to reclaim their senses of self. Moss is marking out a next phase, beyond the super-personal songs, beyond just guitars, toward something ever more ambitious.

Photo by Alex Lake.

DFI Musikfilm Festival 2016: Our Picks

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Copenhagen’s Cinemateket is back with another edition of Musikfilm Festival, a film festival dedicated to music documentaries, rockumenatries, gigumentaries and more neologisms we can’t be bothered to come up with right now. It’s a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes of the music world, as well as a celluloid window into some of the most mythical concerts of the last half century. Behold, our picks for the coming week:

Daft Punk Unchained (Saturday, 16:30)

The festival opens with the (free!) showing of Daft Punk’s odyssey from the brash kings of ‘French touch’ to the robot-headed, disco overlords of today. Expect lots of teasing about “the men behind the masks”, hordes of celebrities quite rightly, if self-servingly, gushing over them, and the burgeoning realization that Homework is still the best thing they ever did. CC.

Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You: A Concert for Kate McGarrigle (Sunday, 17:30)

Kate McGarrigle’s death in 2010 was a major loss for folk music, and the musical family she left behind. Her children, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, have McGarrigle’s influence written all over their careers (sorry Loudon), which they drive home with this tribute concert from 2011. Brace yourself for added emotional intensity from personal photographs and anecdotes, and because no one does emotional intensity quite like the Wainwright/McGarrigle family. AF.

Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay (Tuesday, 21:30)

It’s all in the name, really. If you’re into brutalist architecture, the clanging of metal, and that peculiarly British sense of liberation through grimness, this is the film for you. Starting with industrial legends like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, the film looks at the influences and influence of the genre that bridged the gap between pop music, avant-garde art and post-modern theory. CC.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (Tuesday, 21:45 and Sunday, 19:15)

If you’re still feeling sad about Bowie, you can find one of a million rips of Cracked Actor on YouTube, or you can sit in on one of these screenings with a room full of other people sharing your feelings. This classic 1973 concert film is young Bowie in all of his technicolor splendor and still offers the right amount of weird more than 40 years later. We’re not saying we’ll cry during “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” but we’d appreciate it if you’d avert your eyes. AF.

The Possibilities Are Endless (Wednesday, 19:00)

Edwyn Collins is the former Orange Juice frontman, Postcard Records founder, and the guy behind “A Girl Like You,” which his been licensed a million times. His role as respected indie stalwart was nearly destroyed after a brain hemorrhage left him paralyzed down his right side and only able to say “yes,” “no,” his wife’s name, and “the possibilities are endless.” Yet Edwyn is still writing and recording music today, and this is the story of how. AF.

Mavis! (Thursday, 19:15)

Mavis Staples is surely one of the perfect subjects for a documentary film: a lifetime of music, civil-rights activism, and a never-ending string of collaborations with the great and the good in American music (her latest album includes songs written for her by Nick Cave, Neko Case and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon). Take a gander and find out just why everyone wants to work with Mavis, and why Bob Dylan wanted to marry her. CC.

Hot Sugar’s Cold World (Thursday, 21:15)

After splitting up with his girlfriend, field-recording musician Hot Sugar goes hunting for new sounds in Paris. It sounds more like a Tao Lin novel than a music documentary, but if you didn’t convulse with rage while reading Taipei you can probably take this too. But I will admit that this film first sparked my interest because I was not expecting to read the names of both Jim Jarmusch and Neil deGrasse Tyson in the blurb. CC.

The Amazing Nina Simone (Friday, 19:15)

Look, the forthcoming Nina Simone biopic is a trash fire that’s already started smoldering. Forget it exists and look instead to this  semi-authorized documentary about Simone’s incredible work as a jazz singer, a protest singer, and a civil rights activist. It won’t downplay the controversy the music or the person; Simone was a complex character of the sort Americans could take inspiration from in an election year. Let’s not let that be upstaged by a controversial casting decision. AF.

LIVE REVIEW: Ásgeir, Store Vega, 21.03.2014.

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When a guy at Roskilde once told me he had his biggest life epiphany whilst watching Sigur Ros off his face on shrooms, I was in no way sceptical. It sounds like the perfect recipe for sudden realisations. Unfortunately, due to Bon Iver’s long time hibernation (and my lack of penchant for psychedelic drugs), I’ve had little to fill my greater height of consciousness quota. But last night’s gig suggests another majestic Icelander may be able to help me out.

Because Ásgeir Trausti is, quite simply, glorious. His music is uplifting even in its quietest moments, and as the Icelander’s bewitching vocals rise around the dark venue, it hits that perfect musical sweet spot. Suddenly plunging Store Vega into darkness, his brother and long time band mate performs an a cappella folk song in his native tongue to start the set. As the lights increase, the frontman and the other instrumentalists reveal themselves, moving into a quietly building melody. Before long, we’re stuck in a rich, multi-layered soundscape, that maintains itself unto the end of the set, only pausing to accept the loud applause the Danish audience are ready to offer between tracks.

Asgeir (Photo by Ivan Boll)

At 5’1”, I am no match for the statuesque Scandinavians surrounding me. As a result, my view of the stage is limited to the occasional tip toe look at Ásgeir bent over his keyboard in a pool of spotlight. But this is not a bad thing. In soaring vocals over instrumentation that is at times hauntingly dark and at others anthemic, listening to Ásgeir live is a transportation, whether it be covering Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’, or lifting himself into a falsetto for ‘King and Cross’. There’s a rumbling reverb under your feet as he closes the set with ‘Torrent’, that is impossible to resist.

Ásgeir Trausti is soft and powerful. He’s got strength and back up enough to not be fragile, but the music is heartfelt, warm and simple. Store Vega’s high ceilings may be architecturally glamorous enough for the attention and respect this singer demands, but it’s no match for the live show’s content.

VIEW THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE 

LIVE REVIEW: SOHN, Pumpehuset, 01.03.2014

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We need to talk about Sohn. No, let me rephrase that, why are we talking about Sohn?

With a discography that consists of a whopping two singles and one EP, this London-born, Vienna-based producer has managed to sell out Pumpehuset. Depending on your opinion of his music, this is either an impressive feat or another instance of the insane rush with which the press and the music industry try to keep ahead of the curve.

Local boys and girls Gabriel open the evening. By turns low-key or melodramatic, the five-piece, including piano and cello, are rather at odds with the buzz of the room. In another venue it might be possible to hear the subtleties of the different instruments and appreciate the vocal gymnastics, but here they are lost.

When Sohn finally arrives on stage, dressed in what appears to be a black monk’s cassock, the room explodes. Again, how excited can anyone possibly be, on the basis of five songs on Spotify? I let this doubt pass, and for the first three songs there are enough interesting beats and samples to keep us going. Behind me, someone who will later tell me they loved the show, jokes that in the first fifteen minutes Sohn has played all the songs he has released so far.

But there is a definite moment, just after this comment, when something changes. Stuck behind a group of annoyingly tall people, it takes me a few seconds to figure this out: is he now playing a fucking acoustic guitar? Yes, readers, he is. Now it all makes sense: signing to 4AD, the high-pitched vocals, the guy in the corner noodling around on a keyboard like he’s Rick Wakeman, the acoustic guitar. Sohn just wants to be the electronic Bon Iver, doesn’t he?

Thankfully, after one song, the guitar disappears. Rick Wakeman continues with the bloody arpeggios, and everyone is loving it. Almost everyone. Later on, in the middle of the song, Sohn reaches behind as a roadie hands him another acoustic. Lord, why?

I can’t focus; every bit of the music is distracting me away from the rest. Suddenly it stops. I can just make out some movement onstage over someone’s shoulder. Then this: “I need your energy for this last one.” This last one? It’s a quarter to eleven, you’ve played 45 minutes, this is the last one? Don’t tire yourself out, mate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, whether you happen to like Sohn or not, this is ridiculous. Copenhagen cannot collectively lose its shit over this man’s 50 minute set.  Sure, they are all ahead of the curve, and probably being part of Frost Festival will have helped with the ticket sales. No doubt this is the year Sohn makes it big. Whether he deserves to it altogether is another matter.

LIVE REVIEW: Volcano Choir, Amager Bio, 18.11.13

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Amager Bio is close to full this evening, people travelling here from Gothenburg to witness Volcano Choir’s first gig in Denmark, and first tour in Europe. As expected at any event concerning Justin Vernon, the beards are out in force.

One of the most locally well-known beards belongs to Cody, opening tonight with a solo acoustic set. Without his six companions, his 20-minute set is squarely folk, with the easy charm of someone on home turf.

The seven-piece begin with “Tiderays”, the opener from their latest album, Repave, and already the dynamic of the band is established. Justin stands centre stage, behind a podium, a preacher largely mute in between songs. Stage banter is left to guitarist Chris Rosenau, who enthuses about Copenhagen and the audience at every opportunity. The rest of the band remains nondescript, beneath a textured backdrop that, under red lighting, appropriately mimics lava.

The band unveil two new songs, which sit at either end of the spectrum of styles and genres Volcano Choir swim in, with some post-hardcore basslines and a verse so reminiscent of Animal Collective’s “Also Frightened” that I find myself singing along to the Collective rather than the Choir. This isn’t, in and of itself, a criticism, but for every great rendition of “Acetate” or “Byegone”, there are moments when things do not completely coalesce, as if Volcano Choir are still struggling to move away from being a Vernon™ project.

Volcano Choir (Photo by Tom Spray)

“Still”, a deconstruction of “Woods” from the band’s first album, ironically is one of the strongest demonstrations of what they are capable of as a unit. The layering of vocal samples cleverly anticipates the phrasings by a beat or two, as if to show how precise Bon Iver’s sound really is, precisely tied to specific frasings and chords. The song is also an example of Justin’s role within the live setup: not simply “lead singer”, but a musician working with the modulations of his own voice.

Whatever stylistic reservations I have, and however allergic to earnestness I may be, the intensity is undeniable, and the pulsating “Almanac” shows a band that can pretty much do and play whatever they like.

VIEW THE FULL LIVE GALLERY HERE

Spotlight On: Iceland Airwaves 2013

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Since 1999, the Iceland Airwaves festival has been early Christmas for every music enthusiast in Iceland. We may not have the muddy campsite or 60,000 people jumping up and down in front of the Orange Stage, but what we do have is more stages, more bands, and more to drink. To be accurate, 221 bands will perform this year on 13 different stages downtown in Reykjavík at Iceland Airwaves. The number of stages isn’t a problem because the next show you want to see is never more than two songs away.
When Iceland Airwaves approaches every Icelandic musician gets goosebumps just thinking about the festival. It’s the time of the year when Icelandic music goes all in. For domestic bands the festival is a springboard to the world. Many music agents and reporters come to the festival hoping to find something new to show their bosses, and bands hope to make the headlines.

A band doesn’t need to have a radio hit on their résumé to get a gig at Airwaves; if the band can play and someone will show up they are good to go.

In the last few years many Icelandic artists have had great success. The gap between selling a few copies of rare albums at a local store in Reykjavík and playing at a festival for 50,000 is getting smaller. Of Monsters and Men is probably a good example of that. For that reason, more foreign people are starting to show an interest in visiting the festival. It’s frustrating for Icelanders that it can be hard to get one of those 7,000 tickets. But for those who were too late or too broke to buy a ticket there is an off-venue schedule with many big artists who play for free.

Iceland Airwaves is not all about the natives. Artists from all over the world visit the festival. Many great bands have made their appearances at the festival, for example: TV On the Radio, Fatboy Slim, Hot Chip, Florence and the Machine, Bloc Party, and Flaming Lips. This year 64 foreign artists will perform, most of them from USA, Canada, England, and Sweden. The biggest act, no doubt, is Kraftwerk in 3D, however you have to buy an extra ticket to see their show. Other exiting artists playing this year are the long living Yo La Tengo, Jagwar Ma, Mac Demarco, Gold Panda, Fucked Up and AlunaGeorge.
It is not just the bands that make Iceland Airwaves such a good gathering; the atmosphere is one of a kind. Even though you are freezing in a long queue, the show has started, and you lost one shoe, you’re still in a good mood. Let’s take a look at what the fuss is all about.

 

FM Belfast

FM Belfast

The Iceland Airwaves festival in 2006 marked a breaking point in FM Belfast’s orbit. The couple Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir and Árni Hlöðversson were in need of more people for their performance at the festival and were joined by Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason (founding member of múm), Árni Vilhjálmsson and part time member Björn Kristjánsson (also known as Borko). Together they have made two albums; How To Make Friends (2008) and Don’t Want Sleep (2011). Their main ingredient is hyper electronic pop music that is almost impossible not to dance to. If you intend to see FM Belfast live you should not make any plans afterwards that involve using a lot of energy. These kids will show you no mercy: They will suck all the energy out of you, and make sure that your toes will get stepped on.

 

Retro Stefson

Retro Stefson

If you are used to saying to the bartender, “just bring me something funky, fresh and exotic,” Retro Stefson is definitely your type of cocktail. They mix together various music genres and the outcome is universal summertime dance music with lyrics in Icelandic, English, Portuguese and French. Retro Stefson was formed in 2006 by frontman Unnsteinn Manuel and his brother Logi Pedro. The setup is completed with five former schoolmates. The band’s first album, Montana, was released in 2009, in 2010 Kimbabwe made the spotlight, and last year their self-titled album came out. All of these albums have included many singles which have gained them unstoppable airplay and uncountable number-one hits in Iceland. In spite of their young age, Retro Stefson has gained a large fan base in Iceland and they have started to get noticed outside the country. They have played in every Iceland Airwaves festival since 2006 and 2013 will be no exception.

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Ojba Rasta

Ojba Rasta

In 2009 Icelandic reggae gave birth to its second offspring named Ojba Rasta. There had been no tradition for reggae music in Iceland before Hjálmar made their appearance in 2004, so Ojba Rasta was very welcome in the club. All their songs are in Icelandic except for their biggest hit, “Jolly Good”. They released their self titled debut album in 2012, and this month their second album Friður hit stores. Ojba Rasta has eleven band members including a dub-master, organist, guitarist, bassist and several wind instrument players. This mingling of instruments brings their live shows to a higher level, and  audiences float in the groovy atmosphere that they create on stage.

 

Sóley

Soley

Originally performing around the world with the indie band Seaber, she has now discovered that she can just do it by herself. Sóley is more popular than her band ever was and she is gaining a lot of fans in Europe. Her debut EP, Theater Island, was released in 2010, and was followed the year after with the studio album We Sink. Sóley is a multi-instrumentalist supported by a drummer and a guitarist/keyboardist. Her songs contain distant simple beats, beautiful piano strokes, and Sóley’s seductive voice which should be able to calm all the stressful nerves in your body.

 

Ásgeir

Ásgeir

He made a huge appearance in the Icelandic music scene last year, topping the charts on every radio station in Iceland. He appeared out of nowhere with the singles “Sumargestur” and “Leyndarmál”. Suddenly he made the album Dýrð í Dauðaþögn and won four awards at the Icelandic Music Awards. It is safe to say that he is the most popular artist in Iceland these days. The music is melodic folk, singing in a high pitch, sounding a lot like Bon Iver and making it hard to sing along. Ásgeir used his father’s poems as lyrics for his album.  In spite of his young age and the popularity he has gained (especially from young girls), he has kept unobtrusive and says that this popularity has surprised him and that he just goes with the flow, not trying to impress anyone. Still he got John Grant to translate his lyrics to English to adjust a bigger market. His English version of Dýrð í Dauðaþögn will be released in January next year.

 

múm

mum

Active since 1997, múm have released seven records. Their debut, Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today is OK, came out in 2000, and their latest, Smilewound, was released last month (with a bonus track featuring Kyle Minogue). Bringing together electronic beats and melodies from founding members Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason (FM Belfast), they are supported with classical tones and instruments played by their fellow band members (including Ólöf Arnalds). Following up their album, the band has been playing gigs and festivals both in Asia and Europe. múms’ live shows is always a great experience. The loudness can be surprising compared to how comfortable and quiet their music sounds in the speakers at home. They are often accompanied by a dozen of people who help them put together the show which can be fun and energetic and sometimes feels like a jam session rather than a concert.

 

Ólafur Arnalds

Ólafur Arnalds

He might not be the first artist who comes to mind when think of a music festival, but the gig he’ll be performing will be something special and different from all the other acts on Iceland Airwaves this year. Backed by The Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Ólafur will perform a special show which you will need to buy an extra ticket to see. He will be performing the best from his career, which includes three studio albums: The first one, Eulogy for Evolution, was released in 2007 when Ólafur was only 20 years old. His latest, For Now I Am Winter, came out earlier this year. Ólafur is known for mixing classical music with ambient/electronic pop and the combination is mature experimental beauty.

ARTICLE: The many voices of Justin Vernon

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It comes as a shock to think that Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was released only six years ago. The album that launched Justin Vernon into a muddled collective unconscious was notably bare and intimate, wintry landscape, inspired by the solitary Wisconsin cabin in which it was conceived. It could have been a rugged example of American frontierism, but instead “Skinny Love” became stock music for TV teenage angst. A lesser man would have left it at that or cashed in quick.

Instead, buoyed by a series of apparently unlikely collaborations with Kanye West, Vernon released a Bon Iver album that utterly did away with the lo-fi insularity of its predecessor. Bon Iver, featured a much higher level of production, instrumentation and arrangements, and songs like “Hinnom, TX” seem to indicate that West ended up having some influence upon Vernon’s sound, however indirectly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilgdqrqWWB8

Listening to Bon Iver in chronological order, it becomes apparent that Vernon’s recent choice to tank the project is completely logical, with “Flume” and “Beth / Rest” as bookends. “Beth / Rest” always stuck out from the sophomore album as an oddly cheesy track, with Chariots of Fire-style synths and 80s saxophone. It is an experiment in tone that we have to respect, a divisive track that harkens back to Leonard Cohen’s 80s albums, the way the soul of a song permeates through the kitsch instrumentation.

Vernon is most often associated either with the “Skinny Love” sound or that of his Kanye collaborations, yet a quick look at his back catalogue is proof not only of the breadth of genres and sounds he has explored over his career, but also the number of people he has worked with. Not quite the solitary man in a cabin we once imagined.

Pre-Bon Iver, Justin was part of DeYarmond Edison, which, after his departure, became Megafaun. It’s always interesting hearing him harmonise with other people (as opposed to himself, as in “Woods”), and one of the best examples is in the Crosby, Stills and Nashe inspired tracks of DeYarmond Edison.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find him wearing Blues Brothers glasses, playing blues-rock and singing in a manner unlike anything we’ve heard him sing before with his other-other band The Shouting Matches. It is a timely reminder that there is definitely a light sight to Vernon, and that he has always operated on the margins of what can loosely be defined “Americana”, though the term does him a disservice.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBnpCR2Hm_E

Though there is likely to be no end to Vernon’s appearances on the most disparate albums imaginable, it is perhaps Volcano Choir that promises to be the successor to Bon Iver, since Volcano Choir’s new album also shows signs of a departure in sound, echoing those from Vernon’s previous band. Unmap had a certain wintry feel, but also featured higher production than the debut Bon Iver album, as well as relying much more heavily on cyclic guitar riffs and harmonized vocals. Some of the folk elements of the debut have been eliminated from the follow-up, Repave, and replaced with a more traditional rock instrumentation and touches of the anthemic.

It is tempting to draw up a timeline for Vernon’s career, tracing some kind of linear musical evolution. But what the selection presented here proves is that these different sounds, groups and voices have largely coexisted side by side. Whether he is playing on a Blind Boys of Alabama record or singing backing vocals for Kathleen Edwards or Megafaun, the evidence is that, Bon Iver or no Bon Iver, Justin Vernon will be around for quite some time.

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