Thanks to an ex-girlfriend of mine I know an uncanny amount of facts about Iceland. For instance, did you know that there are no trees on Iceland? Did you know that they eat rotten shark meat and chase it with an almost pure alcohol called Black Death which kills the parasites in the meat? How about the fact that at one time, maybe seven years ago, there were more bookstores in Reykjavik alone than there were Starbucks in our whole country. How can that be? Well, combine the fact that the inhabitants have a one hundred percent literacy rate with the idea that a large percentage of the residents publish their own family history and then sell books out of their living rooms. My favorite story I learned from my ex was one which involved a little boy who, having been raised in a country with a female President, saw a program on television showing our President Clinton. The boy looked at his mother and said, “That’s funny. Their President is a boy.” How cool is that?
I could rattle off probably a whole essay’s worth of Icelandic trivia but at some point I have to get to a record review, namely the new album from Icelandic group Worm is Green. Can it be possible to write a review of an Icelandic group and not mention Björk? Too late. While Worm is Green may not resemble the music of the pixie princess, most every band now streaming out of the northern country paradise owes a debt of gratitude to her. The country with the female President has not only released a slew of female led bands, it has also released a bunch of male bands with falsetto voices. Worm is Green is one of the former.
While Gudridur Ringsted isn’t the next coming of Ms. Gudmundsdottir, she is talented if somewhat detached. Ringsted’s delivery is more akin to the female singers found in Massive Attack, and to Emiliana Torrini, at least in the song she fronted for Gus Gus. My only complaint, and it’s not so much a complaint as it is an observation, is that this album lacks any kind of emotion. Take their, sure to be heard the most, cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Where Ian Curtis’ vocals are dark and moody, Ringsted’s are removed and dismissive. This might be somewhat the point as from the outset the group slows down the music, aping the guitar intro, but then adding drums akin to the aforementioned Massive Attack’s song “Angel”.
Could Automagic be a reflection of their view of their home country? Much has been said about Iceland’s alien landscape. Volcanic activity has created surfaces akin to the moon’s, craggy, gray, and lifeless. The same can be said about this album, and not in a bad way. Even the album cover resembles this description. Worm is Green has taken the ambient music that seems to emanate from their country and has combined it with English trip-hop elements as can be found in Portishead. The result is a meditative mix that is at once entertaining and relaxing. “Shine” is just such an example. Metered male and female vocals backed up by equally metered keyboards and spiced with awesome drum programming make for a subtle ambient soup.
“Outline” is guest musician and vocalist Birgir Hilmarsson’s best imitation of a Kid A outtake, as if he had had woken up sucking on lemon. One can also stretch to find similarities to their countrymen Múm or Sigur Rós, but it is only a stretch held together by the thinnest of threads. This is a good thing. Worm is Green has been able to come out of a country which has created some of the most original music of the last two decades including Björk, Gus Gus, Sigur Rós, Múm, and Emiliana Torrini, and distance themselves enough from it to be creative, while still honoring the roots from whence the music came.
So sit back, put on Automagic, imagine a place with an alien landscape with no trees, where everyone not only reads but writes, and where the leader is a woman. Imagine this paradise while meditating to the album and then realize in an epiphany that the place actually exists.
Massive Attack- Mezzanine
Emiliana Torrini- Love in the Time of Science
Gus Gus- Polydistortion