Iceland, the new California?

In the 1960’s and 70’s, California was the crucible (I just mis-typed that as crubcicle – what a gorgeous word/accident!)… anyway! California was the crucible of popular culture and the home to some of the most influential and successful musicians of all time – Joni Mitchell, The Beach Boys, Neil Young, CSNY, Carole King, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Carly Simon, Phil Spector, Jefferson Airplane, to name but a few. It was, after the demise of ‘Swinging London’ the most important dot on the global, musical map.

How times have changed. Although Los Angeles, along with New York and London, is a powerhouse of the music industry, the place where all the money is made (albeit not on the $$$ scale as in decades past), it cannot claim to be the hotbed of creativity that it could in the days of the Laurel Canyon set. The output of California’s community of musicians in recent years has failed to produce the kind of talent or innovation to rival its forebears (I would draw your attention to Katy Perry as a case in point).

Although arguable that Nashville has taken Laurel Canyon’s place as the songwriting Mecca of the United States in recent years (it seems to be the one seat in the US where its artists are trying to break down cultural walls – the job of the artist), its creative output still falls prey to market pressures and well-tested formulae (although, there is hope for the future in the new direction taken by veteran Lee Ann Womack, and enthralling social realism of Angaleena Presley’s American Middle Class).

No. In 2015, the eyes of the musical world have been unexpectedly and delightfully drawn back to a big island with a tiny population that sits between Europe and the North Pole, by the woman who undoubtedly made it famous in the first place. Iceland. And the artist? Well, Björk… of course. Vulnicura has literally set the music press on fire this year, and not just because it was ‘dropped’ two months before its planned release date and kicked the legendary artist back to the upper reaches of the international charts. What marks her latest set as different from the standard fare in the charts and what she has been praised for most, is her brutal examination of human emotion. How often is an album actually praised for speaking about human truths? Not since Joni Mitchell, is the probable answer.

But while the eyes and ears of music lovers are on Björk’s home soil once more, chipping a little deeper into the ice reveals a music scene that is on the up. Look beyond Vulnicura, look beyond Sigur Rós and Emiliana Torrini and what lies within is a chilly, twenty-first century crucible/crubcicle of musical diversity and promise to rival the California of the 60’s and 70’s. Iceland, perhaps more than any other place on the planet punches way, WAY above its weight, creatively speaking.

So join me, if you will, on a magical mystery tour of some of the Iceland’s very finest. Perhaps if they were in California they would come to the attention of the world at large and become the definitive soundtrack of our times; but for now, let’s just enjoy the satisfaction that comes from knowing about something special before the rest of the world catches on, just as foreign visitors to Iceland feel about the country these incredible artists hail from. So, enjoy!

(Please note: I do not own any rights to the music or videos shown below and am not claiming to. I make no money from this webpage or the showing of any media content therein)

Here goes:

Rökkurró – Sólin Mun Skína

Samaris – Tíbrá

Muted – Special Place ft. Jófriður

Börn – Bara hrós

HALLELUWAH – DIOR

Why do we still listen to Björk? Easy…

Fans have watched Björk explore and experiment with electronics, orchestras, Inuit choirs, films… They’ve seen her work to create new musical instruments using gravity to produce sound, develop the world’s first album app and shock conservative America by laying an egg on the Academy Awards red carpet. Perceptive visitors to the incomparable shores of Iceland have noticed her blend of technology, classical tradition and viscerally emotional singing style evoked and reflected in the urban and natural landscapes and the visionary engineering accomplishments of her native country, her literal storytelling infused with the written history of the nation. And for those who have heard of her but don’t know much of her work, they remember the shocked glee of her one cover version hit, ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’. So why do we still listen to Björk? Easy… Because whether you see her as kooky, eccentric, visionary or unfathomable, she’s never predictable and she never fails to interrupt the inertia of mainstream music.

The early leaking of Björk’s latest set, Vulnicura, is perhaps the most fortuitous event in her career since the day she met Nellee Hooper. The reason being that it has forced her name back to its rightful place at the forefront of the music press, and back to the upper reaches of her commercial power. But is it just about the buzz? Fuck, no. Björk, like all great artists, doesn’t just team up with a new set of hot shit producers to make something new and in conformity with current mass tastes. Her body of work has created a huge lexicon of sounds, styles, subject matters and emotions that show up in one piece of work, are absent in others, and resurface again re-envisaged when they become relevant to the artist once more. There’s nothing wrong in writers having words that and sounds that best express certain experiences. They only get boring if they’re used all the time. This is a trap Björk has never fallen into, even if she has created themes and sonic landscapes that she’s returned to and taken to the next stage of their development. It is this, the reference to, and departure from all the work and exploration that has come before in her journey as a solo artist that makes Vulnicura so unique: simply, it’s all Björk, past, present and exciting future.

Vulnicura contains risk-taking elements of Debut, Post, Homogenic, Vespertine, Medúlla, Volta and Biophilia. Not suitable for those with genius-allergies.