Tag Archives: Björk

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Icelandic Singer-Songwriter Ólöf Arnalds Plays Mercury Lounge

February 3rd, 2017

Despite her instrumental prowess—classically trained on violin and viola and self-taught on guitar and charangoÓlöf Arnalds’ calling card is her crystalline voice. She was already fairly well-known in Iceland’s music scene by the time her debut solo release, Við Og Við (stream it below), arrived in 2007, going on to win Record of the Year and Best Alternative Album at the Icelandic Music Awards. When the LP came out in the U.S. three years later, Paste declared, “Earnest, heartfelt declarations of love are a welcome change from the too-cool posturing of so much of today’s popular music. Familial affection will never go out of style; neither will deftly plucked stringed instruments, subtle orchestral swells and a songbird lilt this impossibly lovely.” The singer-songwriter has since toured with the likes of Björk, Jonathan Richman and Dirty Projectors and released several more EPs and full-players, including 2014’s Palme (stream it below). It’s “as pure as powdered snow, yet bubbling over with fairy mischief,” proclaimed AllMusic. Arnalds (above, performing an Icelandic version of “Turtledove” for the Line of Best Fit and, below, covering “Mr. Tambourine Man”) “is a weaver of ephemera, and with each new collection of music, she both defines herself and furthers her own mythology, a mythology that’s wholly intertwined with the lore of her Nordic homeland.” See her play Mercury Lounge tomorrow night. Alternative-folk trio Cold Weather Company open the show.

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Julia Holter Is Impossible to Pin Down at Rough Trade NYC

October 26th, 2015

Julia Holter – Rough Trade NYC – October 24, 2015

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Onstage Saturday night at her sold-out show at Rough Trade NYC, Julia Holter opened with “Horns Surrounding Me,” her strong voice evoking a touch of Debut-era Björk, punctuated by flourishes of saxophone, violin and a driving drum beat, and she scanned the crowd with an intense gaze as she sang, as if to make eye contact with as many people as possible. There is a powerful force contained within Holter’s music, with lyrics both straightforward and enigmatic, and a stage persona that oscillates between these extremes. For example, in prefacing “Silhouette,” from her latest album, Have You in My Wilderness, Holter stated matter-of-factly, “At the end I go crazy—like insane.”

To be fair, this manifested in a quite measured, subtle way, through the repetition of layered vocals and violin crescendo, with the true insanity perhaps contained somewhere beneath the surface. Later on, Holter used equally evocative language to describe “Lucette Stranded on the Island,” (“a horribly tragic nightmare song”) and “Have You in My Wilderness” (“another sad song about losing my mind”). So, yes, there is a healthy sense of drama and intrigue contained throughout Holter’s music, and it’s clear why she draws comparisons to experimental artists like Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom.

Yet, it is also understandable why she took offense to a journalist’s recent question about whether “she whistles when she is alone,” as Holter recounted from the stage last night. “How patronizing,” she commented, as if by her lyrics or music style she could be pegged as some sort of whimsical/quirky archetype. Closing the show with a powerful pair of songs, “Betsy on the Roof” and “Sea Calls Me Home,” Holter further proved that her compositions and style of performing are at once singular, strange, beautiful and impossible to pin down. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

 

 

 

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Norwegian Singer-Songwriter Jenny Hval Comes to Rough Trade NYC

September 4th, 2015

Straight out of Oslo, singer-songwriter Jenny Hval has been making what AllMusic dubbed “thoughtful, uncompromising music” for more than a decade. And it’s safe to say she’s intrigued the Guardian in that time: “Like Björk and FKA Twigs, Norwegian artist Jenny Hval presents a version of female sexuality in which carnal impulses, anxieties and the female/male perspective are often knotted together.” Her first two albums came out under the moniker Rockettothesky, but she attached her name to the three most recent LPs, including this year’s Apocalypse, Girl (stream it below). “Her art rock pushes more boundaries than its low-key jazz and slam-poetry roots might let on,” according to Consequence of Sound. It’s “an understated mesh of free jazz and artful improvisation, guiding us out of the nightmare capitalism has dreamed for us and into sexual liberation and individual rebirth.” Currently working her way down the East Coast, Hval (above, doing “The Battle Is Over” live in studio for WNYC FM) comes to Rough Trade NYC on Sunday night. Seattle singer-songwriter Briana Marela opens the show.

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Ásgeir Leaves No Doubt at Mercury Lounge

June 20th, 2014

Ásgeir – Mercury Lounge – June 19, 2014

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There’s something about the far off environs of Iceland that gives birth to unique musical voices. Everyone knows Björk and Sigur Rós, and soon they will know the name Ásgeir Trausti. With one out of 10 people in Iceland owning his first album, he is already well known in his home country and is ready to conquer the States. The English translation of his debut album, Dýrð í dauðaþögn (renamed In the Silence) was translated with the American singer John Grant and released earlier this year.

Donning a trucker hat, Ásgeir ascended to the cozy stage of a sold-out Mercury Lounge. Icelandic folk music preluded the start of the show, however Trausti began his set with the English tune “Head in the Snow.”  There’s something interesting about hearing songs in which you don’t know the lyrics or the meaning behind them. As he sang the pair “Leyndarmál” and “Sumargestur,” thoughts of what they might be about tickled my brain. Was it a ballad for an unrequited love or a song about homesickness for the beauty of his home? Only the Icelandic speakers would know, but the mystery is almost alluringly fitting for the language so steeped in a far-off land.

Weaving between his native tongue and English throughout the performance, Trausti made sure to offer several mid-set treats with a debut of a new song, “Ocean,” drenched in reverb, and a cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.” The latter was a drawn-out version of the original that reminded me more of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” than of Kurt Cobain’s grunge masterpiece. Trausti managed to play most of his debut album, which included an acoustic rendition of “Summer Guest,” plus fan-favorites “Higher,” “Going Home” and “King and Cross.” For the final song, Trausti admitted that it was “a strange moment” as his band—consisting of his producer, his big brother, the album’s lyricist, and a drummer—couldn’t exit the small stage as he concluded the night with the lullaby “On That Day.” But there’s no doubting the family onstage and the magical evening they produced for the New York City crowd. —Sharlene Chiu