JPR Live Session: Árstíðir

Jul 21, 2015

Not many bands can lay claim to the kind of dramatic career development that Árstíðir can. Formed in the wake of the 2008 stock market crash, they found themselves catapulted to the top of the Icelandic music charts within six months of their debut, and then forged ahead with their 2010 tour despite a volcanic eruption that stalled global travel.

In 2012, Árstíðir was the first Icelandic band to ever win the Eiserner Eversteiner European Folk Music Award (in Plauen, Germany) and were scheduled to play the prestigious TFF Rudolstadt festival in July 2013. While on tour in Germany that year, an impromptu performance in the Bürger Bahnhof train station in Wuppertal swept them up in a tidal wave of international attention. Hastily recorded by a friend who posted it to YouTube, the video received more than four million views and sparked global interest in both the band and the Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson’s composition.

By May 2014, they had launched a Kickstarter campaign that quickly raised $70,000 (substantially exceeding the initial $20,000 goal) to finance their third album, Hvel (Spheres). In return for their investment, backers were promised not only a copy of the finished recording, but also gifts ranging from hand knit Icelandic sweaters to vials of volcanic ash from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. Once fully funded, the band took up residence in an abandoned coal-fired power plant that had stood empty for two decades before a group of artists and entrepreneurs re-purposed it as a creative space. The acoustics in the space provided them with an ideal environment for composing and rehearsing. The result is a collection of songs which weave both traditional and electronically-inspired instrumental threads together with soaring vocal harmonies, and that critics have described as “beautiful and atmospheric” and “utterly mesmerizing.”

Árstíðir’s music defies genre borders and might best be described as classically influenced indie folk rock. The band members’ wide range of musical backgrounds and experience combined with professional interests ranging from law to literature and engineering to computers, make them unique in their wholly democratic approach to music making and performance. Entwining the elements of sound with lyrics describing heartbreak, longing, memory and a deep connection to the circular oneness of life, they marry organic acoustic traditions and modern electronic arrangements with intricate simplicity and unpretentious skill.

Here's the Youtube video referred to in the conversation: