Keeping a finger on the pulse

Where will Marteinn Sindri’s Atlas lead you?

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Marteinn Sindri (photo by Blair Alexander)

A few years back, Marteinn Sindri’s performance at the Melodica Festival in Reykjavík gave me massive goosebumps. This classically trained pianist from Iceland can easily cast a spell on the audience with the delicateness of his touching and heartfelt singer-songwriter performances. After four years of careful sound-sculpturing, the full-length solo debut from Marteinn Sindri, entitled Atlas, finally landed in our hands on 16 May 2019. The album reveals minimalistic yet wide and elegant arrangements. On Atlas, everything seems to be in its place with a cast of no fewer than twelve exceptional contributing musicians, amongst them the world-renowned composer and instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily.

Lyrically, Atlas muses over the lot of humanity, which is never stagnant and has highs and lows. The album demands that one be in a constant state of searching and even more problematically, of reflection. Atlas is not only inspired by the figure of the mythical giant who was sentenced to undertake the impossible mission of carrying the world upon his shoulders alone, but the album also makes a reference to the Greek figures Prometheus and Odysseus (Ulysses). Going a step further, the title reaches into the symbolism of the maps that influence our journeys over real and imaginary landscapes, leading us to adventurous wanderings on the one hand and reflections upon life on the other.

A piano-guitar matrimony is in the spotlight of Atlas. Sometimes a guitar takes the lead, as the instrument became Marteinn Sindri’s main creative tool while he was writing the material. But he has a natural skill for building these core piano lines around which all the other sounds in the composition are woven, as in the song ‘Deserts’. He takes it even further, immersing the listener in the slowly unfolding ‘Take Me Down’, which reaches the sublimity of a prayer. The song grows into a more hymnic sound space with its calm brass section in the middle.

Marteinn Sindri’s work recalls the glorious era of the gauzy Múm-esque aesthetics and pulls at the heart strings of those who cherish the light tunes of indie pop Seabear, early Útidúr, or the folk rock of Hymnalaya. To my delight, Marteinn Sindri sings the words as though a soft soothing wind is stroking leaves. His compositions are gentle, for instance, as on the self-titled opener of the album, ‘Atlas’, the finger-picking-driven and cheerful ‘Summerwine’ or the surprisingly blissful closing tune ‘Prometheus’.

But where there is jolly sun, there must also be a gloomy shadow. Marteinn Sindri transitions smoothly between moods, for example, on the subtly unfolding ‘Drops’, which is garnished with strings, or on ‘Crown of Love’, where the artist shapes a rather minor guitar mood in the first two minutes, then out of nowhere, the song breaks into a more dynamic and positive dimension. The album’s grandest moments are found on ‘Dice’ and ‘Odyssey’ and swathe the listener in a kind of uncertainity. Mesmerizing piano phrases with sputters of a synthetic heartbeat rhythm on the latter form the basis for a deep soundscape. The song quietly gathers its stormclouds, which finally find relief in a torrential rage, and eventually, everything fades away into the sounds of tidal waves.

Atlas is a carefully and delicately crafted record, and its poetic lyrics pull into reflection and are shrouded in a travel motif. Having heard Marteinn Sindri playing live, I was aware of the direction in which he was heading, so I thought this album wouldn’t surprise me at all. But the tiny details that I discover each time I listen to Atlas make me want to let Marteinn Sindri guide me further into his ever-changing sonic world. In the end, what’s better than setting off on a new music journey?

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Stína has followed her passion to Icelandic music as a music journalist since 2010. She joined then a writing team of Muzyka Islandzka - a Polish website dedicated to Icelandic music. Spreading her wings, Stína started her adventure with Icelandic language and moved to Reykjavík where she studied the language at the university. She also takes an active part in life of the local music scene. Since 2014 Stína had run a music blog that was transformed in 2017 into a printed magazine on Icelandic music.

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