Perhaps these are the markings of an ignorant mind, but I choose to remain naïve and childlike in my conception of Iceland. In my (sadly regressed) imagination, Iceland, a place I’ve never been but hope to visit someday, is a land rife with beautiful and fantastical creatures that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tolkien novel. The main reason for this (admittedly a not very good one) is that the music from Iceland that has made it’s way into my hands has been, by and large, gorgeous, but also seemingly touched upon by something otherworldly.
The two most obvious examples of Icelandic music that has attained some notoriety in the United States are Sigur Ros and Bjork. Now, if ever there were two examples of artists making music so entrancing that it seems sculpted beyond mortal capabilities, it would be Sigur Ros and Bjork. Add the beatific, ethereal works of Max Richter, Johann Johannsson, Mum, and amiina to that list, and my conception of Iceland as some unearthly fantasyland, rather than a modern country with a gross domestic product, middle-class, and an army, seems a little less ridiculous (Plus the name “Iceland” just sounds like a place invented by Nintendo).
Oddly, the newly released compilation, Made In Iceland, seems tailor-made to battle my idiotic conception of the country. The album, a collection of music by a wide variety of Icelandic artists, deliberately and purposefully drives home the point that Icelandic music is not limited to glacial, ghostly compositions. For example, they too, like any modern country, have bands like Mugison, who seem almost exclusively influenced by Nine Inch Nails (judging by the title of their submission, “Mugiboogie,” they seem to at least have a better sense of humor than Trent Reznor). They too have artists with some truly terrible ideas, such as a synth-pop version of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” sung in falsetto (FM Belfast’s “Lotus”).
Which brings us to Made In Iceland’s most pronounced flaw: sequencing. Leading off the compilation with “Lotus” is hardly putting your best foot forward, and from there the order of the songs does not appear to have been thought through all that well. Sigur Ros’ “Ini Mer Singur Vitleysingur” (originally released on this year’s Me Su I Eyrum Vi Spilum Endalaust) is a strange palate cleanser after the spastic, progressive punk of 12223’s “Benny Crespos Gang. Following Sigur Ros with Reykjavik!’s melodic dose of hardcore “Aeji, Plis” is an equally curious choice.
Despite the sequencing problem, Made In Iceland does contain enough standout tracks that should pique the average listener’s curiosity. I will certainly be seeking out more from Valgeir Sigurosson whose glitchy, exquisite “Focal Point” inadvertently serves as the album’s centerpiece. Olafur Arnolds “3055” manages the delicate trick of seamlessly merging electronica and classical music in a way that should make fellow countryman Max Richter proud. Olaf Arnold’s fluttery vocals on “Klara” will likely earn her many comparisons to Joanna Newsom, and not undeservedly, but her deft, delicate musicianship shows that she is a formidable talent in her own right.
Made In Iceland, which, if the accompanying literature is any indication, is meant to serve as an ambassador to Iceland’s evidently wide-ranging music scene, is too scattershot a compilation to serve as an effective introduction to Icelandic music. However, in the Ipod age, it’s easy enough to pick and choose what’s worth keeping and what isn’t. The highlights of the record showcase talents that should not be ignored, and if Made In Iceland provides the easiest access to these talents, then the compilation is, at the very least, a modest success.