“Under The Radar” – Hjaltalin

Keefy’s at it again in “Under The Radar” No.4, giving you lucky Inverted Worlders the lowdown on Icelandic outfit Hjaltalin…

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You remember that feeling?

“Deserters Songs” by Mercury Rev, or “Funeral” by Arcade Fire?. This is just amazing, I love this record? You can’t wait to tell your mates you have uncovered an absolute treasure? There’s nothing quite like this around? (Friends look at you with a kind of knowing glance and whisper stuff while you get your round in because it doesn’t sound like anything they’ve got). But you feel superior because this is YOURS ? You do know that feeling ?

This was my reaction when a demo of “Sleepdrunk Seasons” by Hjaltalin slid into my mailbox just around Christmas time. A little research revealed, to my deep joy, the band hailed from Reykjavik so I was very expectant. Would they sound a bit like Sigur Ros? or slightly Bjorkish? Or possibly indie heavy in a Mugison way? Only one way to find out! Headphones on, press play.

Praise be – its gorgeous and simply enchanting. It’s summer evenings, lazy Sundays. Kicking off with the brass led “sleepdrunk seasons 2” and fading into “Traffic Music” it is an amazing blend of Icelandic folk pop with restrained harmony vocals and superbly arranged songs that seamlessly hum along in a cheeky playful way. Sorry, there are no lead guitars or posturing lyrics, that’s a bassoon I think but its distorted, and I’m sure I can hear a piccollo? This is not Western Music people this is from Iceland! By the time “Goodbye July ” kicks in I am converted. I feel a sensation inside known as “joy” welling up inside which is most unusual for me!!! This is just great music.

After the chant “Debussy”, a change of pace brings the intense “Selur”. Hogni’s vocals have a slight hint of despair which is soon dispelled in “Sleepdrunk Seasons 1” with its jaunty rhythms and fantastic orchestration leads into “the trees dont like the smoke” which is pure genius, you want to laugh, cry and dance all at once. “I Lie ” is reflective and still. The album closes with “Trailer Music” a song that starts slowly as the vocals call and respond,and builds with cascading violins and a driving piano and superb percussion (a feature through out the record). I have heard my album of the year! Oh wow!!! there is an incredible bonus track “pu komst vid hjartad i mer” that rounds things up perfectly. To me it is plainly obvious that the Icelandic Elves have put their blessing on this recording.

The first leg of Hjaltalin U.K. tour starts at the Shakespeare, Sheffield. There are not many pubs like the Shakespeare left now. Its appears untouched since about 1954 (apart from the smoking area!) There’s no fuss, the staff are great. Bands play in a small room upstairs that is just a room with a stage. Light fittings hang, in an offhand manner, from the ceiling – they’ve seen it all before. Decor is “Squat Chic” – old wallpaper and some velvet drapes that have seen better days – perfect. The only stage lighting is a couple of old standard lamps, there’s not too much room. Things are delayed as half of the band ended up in Cambridge and were employed in a traffic jam on the M1. But the expectant audience, a respectable 80 or so, are entertained by “The Contortionist and the Wandering Boy Poets” who do lovely psych/folk, the “Greenville Canary” a very polished folk/pop outfit and “Butler -Williams“, two geezers from Manchester who performed folky experimental bits rather well.

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I shared a beer with “Wignap” Mogul Andrew Thomas Ferguson before Hjaltalin take the “stage”. For a band that had left Reykjavik at 4 am in the morning they sparked off with remarkable vigour. There seem to be a couple of missing persons but you wouldn’t know. The sound is edgier than the album, which is to be expected. There are no pretensions on view this evening and the band have us enchanted from the start. Hogni fronts the band sharing vocals with Sigga (I think) as they take us through “Sleepdrunk Seasons”. We sway to “Debussy” almost dance to “The Trees” and “Goodbye July” and the whole band swing and smile. There is a moment mid set when things go slightly astray. The band fall around laughing but carry on anyway! “Trailer Music” grooves along nicely and we all grin happily. Live the songs lose none of their beauty and jaunty joyful optimism- qualities that are very rare today. It’s turned midnight when Hjaltalin leave the stage. Nobody blames them for not doing an encore. It has been wonderful. www.myspace.com/hjaltalinband but I want to keep them to myself!

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