Ásgeir – Mercury Lounge – June 19, 2014
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