The Republic of Iceland was founded on June 17, 1944. To mark the occasion, Plïnkï Plønkï has prepared an album that sounds like a party, packed with birthday songs addressed to people who share their names. The idea is that people around the world might “stumble” upon their songs. For example, Jacob may just Google “Happy Birthday, Jacob” on his special day and find his tune, while Emma may type in “Födelsedagen Emma.” Let there be cake!
The album is made even more intimate due to the incorporation of home movies, most memorably the voice of a girl repeating, “This is what I wanted!” The tape itself would make a perfect birthday gift, and the music would sound fitting at most parties. I’ve just come from one of these ~ happy 18th birthday, Brie! ~ and while the music was upbeat (sample song: David Lee Murphy & Kenny Chesney’s Everything’s Gonna Be Alright), it was more party music than birthday music. This is completely understandable, as outside of a few birthday songs and some children’s albums, birthday music is not really a genre. But it could be, which is where this album comes in.
It’s raining as the album begins ~ not a good start for most birthdays. But then the pleasant piano begins to play, as one might expect from piano and coffee records. One can imagine a child ruing the loss of yard games, only to be invited to start decorating the parlor for indoor festivities. Guðrún gets a rustling of paper, a smidgen of trumpet and a large serving of slow banjo. Emma gets guitar, an out-of-tune toy xylophone and a bath. There’s no telling what the presents will be, only that they will all be gentle, delivered with love. The warmth of “Happy Birthday Adam” is akin to a living room filled with friends, drinks and an ebullient pre-schooler. (Adam gets his gifts on James’ birthday, but it’s a minor quibble, and he doesn’t seem to notice the delay.) Léa is greeted by a rush of instrumentation, like a birthday surprise. “Open it, Mama!” Oscar gets a wordless singer. Lucky Jacob gets strings.
Now one begins to think of Iceland, relatively stable following many years of political and economic upheaval. The country has been through a lot and deserves to celebrate. One hears echoes of other Icelandic artists here, most notably amiina and múm. In the final track, adults greet each other with the clinking of glasses and toasts (“Cheers!”) while the traditional “Happy Birthday to You” (formerly “Good Morning to All”) plays in the background. Til hamingju með afmælið! (Richard Allen)