Words by Stína Satanía
What defines the Icelandic music scene, in my opinion, is community. With his wonderful recent album – 2018’s Ahoy Side A – gifted local legend Svavar Knútur has proven that the greatest strength of a project lies in the musical friendship that grows around it. Although he is known for his acoustic and intimate song-writing, built around ukulele and guitar, and his soft voice, Svavar Knútur has explored a more band-oriented soundscape this time.
Several years ago, he was performing at Aldrei Fór Ég Suður festival in West Fjords, and I was watching the broadcast from 4,000 km away. He needed only his warm, resounding vocals and a ukulele. So, I dare say that Iceland has no better entertainer and storyteller than Mr Knútur. He has been an important voice on the local scene, which has built up from his skyrocketing band, Hraun, in the 2000s, to his internationally known troubadour solo project, where he shares his poignantly beautiful melodies with every possible age group. Trying to find an Icelander who hasn’t heard of Svavar is like searching for Waldo.
Ahoy Side A invites us to a new sonic world within a wonderland. It provides space not only for his performance skills but also for a little help from his (talented musician) friends. These added voices and instruments enrich the whole image and shape this bountiful album. In the first four songs of Ahoy Side A, Svavar Knútur shifts the mood easily from the quite grand, catchy and at times somewhat aggressive ‘Hurting’, through the very light, indie folk of ‘Lady Winter’ with the addition of a choir, to the dynamic and heart-warming Icelandic indie rock, more upbeat ‘Morgunn’ (‘Morning’). Somehow, he manages to create this beloved, pure Icelandic atmosphere that we non-Icelanders long for. Svavar is always connected to the nature of his homeland, so ‘Haustvindar’ (‘Autumn Winds’) seems like an ode to the Icelandic weather. As is commonly known, the weather conditions on the island change unexpectedly, as does the song. It unfolds gingerly with guitar and piano lines only to explode in strong gusts of percussive instruments and strings. So, beware of those famous flying Icelandic trampolines! Closing the first part, Svavar Knútur calms us down with a synth arrangement for ‘Cheap Imitation’ that speaks to my other senses by somehow creating a rather Utopian frame from a French movie with flashes of rainbow colours.
In the second part of Ahoy Side A, the troubadour revisits four songs from his vast catalogue and brings numerous talented friends to repaint them, as he has accurately described it. Various well-crafted arrangements put a new and compelling spin on previously released song tales, such as ‘Undir Birkitré’, ‘Ölduslóð’, ‘Yfir Hóla Og Yfir Hæðir’ and ‘Tiger and Bear’. Hearing these tracks from a broader perspective with a fresh touch of production delivers blissful moments with plentiful instrumental accents or, by contrast, stripped down ukulele versions, and there are even choral parts and an almost Christmassy atmosphere, which we adored as kids.
Ahoy Side A once again shows Svavar’s unique talent for creating great music and outstanding storytelling. If Ahoy is this captivating, I can’t wait for the flip-side.
Svavar Knútur – Ahoy Side A
1. The Hurting
2. Lady Winter
5. Cheap Imitations
6. Undir Birkitré (Repainted)
7. Ölduslóð (Repainted)
8. Yfir Hóla Og Yfir Hæðir (Repainted)
9. Tiger and Bear (Repainted)