Words by Stína Satanía
As befits the English name of the band, the world of Árstíðir changes with every album – literally, like seasons. Three years have passed since this pop chamber outfit last released an album, Hvel. Much has changed along the way, but from the very beginning of their career, the band performed in a very high gear, which is now deepened with the maturity of their ten years’ experience as performers. One thing remains sure – Árstíðir don’t disappoint despite the quite high degree of my expectations towards their new material.
After dropping three albums (Árstíðir in 2009, Svefn og vöku skil in 2011 and Hvel in 2015), the band summed up their progress over the past decade with the 22 June release of Nivalis, which appears in truth as their most mellow, grand and hauntingly stunning release to this date. Slowly unfolding with the opener, ‘While This Way’, the album maps out a new world for Árstíðir’s sound, which is rich in percussion and bass lines like never before. Natural gems with the characteristic vocals that have become the band’s signature bow to harmonies from Simon and Garfunkel. Nivalis let me rediscover Daníel’s accurate fingerpicking, Ragnar’s gentle piano and Gunnar’s soft voice that recalls a fragile elegance. The album excels in delicate English lyrics but still, enthusiasts of the Icelandic language will have their one bullet, ‘Þar sem enginn fer’.
The album is actually split in two parts. One of them deals with the unrest one feels when searching for someone when the snow has covered their traces and the other deals with finding peace with one’s past experiences.
Regardless of language, Árstíðir offers a grasp of an idyllic Icelandic landscape enchanted into sound, which captivated me with colourful visions right from the first line in ‘Circus’. Well, Árstíðir wouldn’t be themselves if they didn’t involve strings that strike home with the creation of a mesmeric atmosphere, here or there with subtle layers or sometimes assuming primacy when it’s needed. The sound of Nivalis is powerful with only a light dusting of electronica added to the mix this time, as in ‘Wasting Time’. But ‘Órói’ sounds more like Árstíðir’s pals Kiasmos in a soft version than the band itself. Even this similarity doesn’t make me skip a single song on the album. And then, the thirteenth and final track, ‘Passion’, is the finest thing here, possibly because it’s the best example of the affinity this song shares with the beginnings of Árstíðir, and its deep intensity tops indeed my greatly beloved, strings-driven ‘Shades’ from the second release.
Wowing crowds all over Europe no matter what the preferred genre, nowadays Árstíðir deserves steadily more and more to be recognised as the jewel in the crown of Icelandic music. The result in the shape of Nivalis is nothing but glorious. It’s an album worth listening to repeatedly, for its sophistication and evocation of another soundscape, for its quality of production and for its compelling beauty.
Árstíðir – Nivalis
1. While This Way
3. Please Help Me
5. Like Snow
6. Þar Sem Enginn Fer (Sjálfviljugur)
11. In the Wake of You
12. Wasting Time