Those who visit Iceland tend to fall in love with it. This is the case with Swedish composer Mikael Lind, who now calls Reykjavik home, and Colin Herrick of Time Released Sound, who visited the nation earlier this year and brought back materials for the handmade version of this album. These include charming artwork from Sigga Bjorg Sigurdardottir, a locally-snapped Polaroid, poppy seeds, leaves, flowers and stamps. As someone who’s visited Iceland himself, I can attest to the spell cast by the country: a defiant sense of history intermingled with a wild sense of creativity.
Musicians in Iceland can’t help but be influenced by the “Big Three”: Sigur Rós, múm and Björk. Each of these artists has pushed music forward in a big way and is identified with a certain sound, although to be fair, each artist’s sound has changed over time. The same is true of Lind. Before moving to Iceland, his sound was glitchy electronica, and his music was fairly compared to the output of the Warp and Morr Music labels. But after moving to Iceland in 2006, his music began to take on the character of the country: more mellow, with a higher percentage of modern composition. Alltihop was the transition album, while last year’s Felines Everywhere offered an innocent blend of bells, beats and violin that often sounded like a music box dance club.
Unsettled Beings is two albums in one, representing two sides of Lind and by default, two sides of Iceland. The first side, represented by the first four songs, shifts from the early múm sound to the Sigur Rós sound, which is no surprise given the participation of Alex Somers (Riceboy Sleeps). For better or worse, Somers tends to put his mark on his productions, most recently the unfairly maligned Nepenthe from Julianna Barwick. That album contained some amazing textures and vocal layers, but fans had wanted the old Barwick and were caught off guard by the new. In contrast, Sigur Rós tried very hard not to sound like Sigur Rós on their last album, but were unable to disguise their tropes. The piano, bells and ambient underpinnings of Lind’s “Old Tales of Folly” were already Sigur Rós-like, but the addition of Ryan Karazija’s Jónsi-esque vocals make it virtually indistinguishable from the work of that group. This is both good and bad; if this were the work of the Icelandic band, it would be one of their better recent songs, but it’s the work of someone else, so the best praise we can give is to call it a worthy tribute. The same is true of “The Hermit’s Fly Trap”, which soars on the violin of Paul Evans. We like it, but the whole point of Icelandic music is to be original. Can one be too in love with the sound of another?
Fortunately, Lind shifts from tribute to trendsetting in the second half of the album, producing an entirely different sort of music. Marked by sharp piano notes, a light touch of electronic percussion and a willingness to experiment, the jaunty “Choleric Witch Doctor” stands in stark contrast to the tracks that have preceded it. Here we hear hints of the old Lind, but we also hear timbres new to the artist. This is exactly where we want Lind to be: blazing his own path. “Mumblings of a Soothsayer”, the album’s longest track, continues in this vein: playful, upbeat and distinctive. Lind even allows the notes to fall apart a little toward the end, and the contrast between tempo and abstraction provides the album with some of its best moments. The title of the album, Unsettled Beings, may refer to the evolution of the composer’s sound; but the title of the closing track, “Refined in the Fire”, is an indication that he may have found his signature sound. At first, falling in love with Iceland is to celebrate what is already Icelandic; after time, one realizes that the best imitation of Icelandic culture is an infusion of the new, which is what Lind ultimately achieves here. (Richard Allen)