*Originally written for muzykaislandzka.pl – Polish website about Icelandic music, visit the website and share some love there! 🙂
Lately reviewing albums happens rarely to me but while I was listening to something surprising from the Icelandic music shelf and completely fresh in its sound I couldn’t stop myself from sharing good news. A long-awaited debut album of the ambitious young team called CeaseTone has been released at the end of May 2016. When was the last time that you listened to something new that is a fusion of electronic pop and indie rock? Let me offer you something that you actually cannot refuse: put on your headphones or turn the sound up – 10 songs from Two Strangers will take you on a nice trip.
This young team is an example of why I love to follow the Icelandic music scene. Three years ago, In 2013, the leader of the project Hafsteinn Þráinnson performed with his solo project CeaseTone at the annual competition for young talents called Músíktilraunir. Then, he presented rather folks songs and dazzled the audience with his playing technique so he earned the title of the best guitarist. Shortly afterwards, I heard his voice for the first time on the radio and it was a memorable moment. The project has grown into a full-scale team including Hafsteinn Þráinnson (guitar, keyboards, vocals), masterful Sólrun Mjöll Kjartansdóttir (drums), Steinar Karlsson (bass) and Jökull Brynjarsson (synthesizers, piano, sampler). With their joint forces, while playing live they show full vigor and love for doing music.
Two Strangers starts innocently. With its quiet intro and hazy electronic sound, the opening song entitled Two Roads is able to pack us into a rickety scenic railway that drives along a dark tunnel and accelerates, telling us by the way that we should forget about the brakes. A sonic journey through a landscape of sounds offered on this album has started. Captivating guitar phrases appear in the distance along with seemingly fragile vocal of Hafsteinn. Synthesizers step into action and bring a monumental sound. Please welcome CeaseTone.
It is impossible to be bored with monotony because the path charted by those young musicians is lush, varied and interesting. The band takes delight in changing suddenly dynamics and mood. This album is a skilful bridge between folk, electronic pop and indie rock. Delicate and subtle acoustic melodies nimbly turn into compositions generously topped with electronic sound that can be heard in songs like Full Circle or The Bright Side. The musicians can surprise with an unexpected twist in the direction of guitar explosion. Yes, CeaseTone can bandy catchy riffs around and its atmospheric indie rock with ease could conquer international radio stations. But those sudden changes in dynamics are also relaxing beginnings of the songs that can plunk powerful drums down into your face and send listeners into space with a rocket launcher made of hymnic heights like in Ain‘t Sleeping Alright.
Except songs on CeaseTone‘s album, there is also one instrumental that lasts only one and a half minute and in a pure joyful way divides the story of Two Strangers down the middle. It reminds me of what has captivated me the most in the folk roots of CeaseTone.
The second half of the album starts a little darker. Dark Days are coming and in some parts the sound spreads in an elevated way on this valley in front of us with strings and voices in the background. Somewhere further, it returns to a narrow river bed carved by sounds of guitar. But let us not be taken in by the illusion. It‘s not that innocent here. Diversity, multiple layers, violatility – all of that merge smoothly into one piece while painting at the same time an impressive sparkling music image. With its intensity, Lo-Fi is a breathtaking composition. It sounds like music turmoil, exactly as if we looked over the edge like Hafsteinn appelead to us – ‘So let‘s walk to the edge and we‘ll fall down when there‘s nothing left to be found out here’.
However, life has taught me that abysses are not to fall down into but to fly above them. And so it is in the case of CeaseTone and the next song on the album – Humble History Song. This composition is so full of fine details that every time I listen to it, I discover something new and a different sound catches my attention. Everything is constantly changing – mood, dynamics, instrumentation that takes the lead. It‘s remarkable how everything fits here and vocals open a clear path to a musical climax.
Although it seems that everything on Two Strangers has been said, there is still the title song ahead to get our breath back. Irresistibly, I feel like among those swishing sounds and clicks and some kind of back vocal (all of that like from an old vinyl record), Hafsteinn enchants with his acoustic guitar. Like on sepia photograph, he asks the most important question between two people who feel like they have something in common but they don‘t have the courage to start a common story: ‘Will you be what I always wanted, will you be my friend?’
For almost a month I haven‘t been able to break myself of listening to Two Strangers. Still I find the next great moments anew, although initially I came at the album with skepticism. Two Strangers mesmerizes, especially while listening to it with a considerable volume. It casts a spell through studio versions and totally absorbes with live performances. CeaseTone has tastefully combined a variety of tempo and contrasts of minimalist compositions and those almost bursting due to the rich instrumentation. As a result, it‘s hard to believe but it‘s merely a debut album. If Two Strangers comes out so lushly, what will happen next? At the very thought of it I feel shivers up and down my spine.
Two Strangers tracklist:
1. Two Roads
2. Sight Of Your Life
3. Full Circle
4. The Bright Side
5. Ain’t Sleeping Alright
6. Brighter Nights
7. Darker Days
9. Humble History Song
10. Two Strangers