Gummi (2007)

Release Info:

Much-anticipated brand new full length from one of the leading lights of Iceland’s burgeoning alternative music scene, following 2004’s “Ventill/Poki” (RESCD009) and the accompanying debut UK tour. Stafraenn Hakon is the pseudonym of Olafur Josephsson, and “Gummi” is his fourth album release for UK indie Resonant – the first two effectively being full
releases for his bedroom recordings.

While “Ventill/Poki” represented his first material recorded with a supporting cast – a progression that was very evident in comparison to his previous output – “Gummi” marks a further giant leap forward in every respect.

Having established himself as a predominantly instrumental artist, Josephsson will surprise many with the inclusion of six full vocal tracks among the nine included here – featuring Birgir Hilmarsson (Blindfold/Ampop) on five tracks and Efterklang’s Casper Clausen on one, alongside other guest musicians and collaborators.

While recognising the need to constantly evolve in order to maintain and expand upon your audience, the key elements that have always marked out Stafraenn Hakon from the crowded post-rock platform are still very much in place; delicate, intricate instrumentation and atmospherics, building slowly and organically, drawing in the listener.

Sure to be his biggest album to date, “Gummi” is housed in a full colour CD wallet featuring stunning hand-drawn artwork, and will be supported by UK tour dates around the release. Released 15th of  April 2007.

Songs / Participants:

Járn
(Ólafur Josephsson)
Ólafur: guitars, bass, piano, banjo, acoustic guitar, bell
Lárus: earth harp, church organ, bells
Daniel: drums, tamborine, glitches, synths
Birgir: pump organ

Svefn
(written by Samúel White & Ólafur Josephsson, lyrics by Birgir Hilmarsson)
Ólafur: Guitars, Bass, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Synths, backing voices
Samúel: Guitar
Daniel: Drums, Glitches, Guitar, Bass, Synths, backing voices, Bells
Birgir: vocals, bass
Töddi: Trombone

P-rofi
(written by Samúel White & Ólafur Josephsson)
Ólafur: Guitars, Bass, Harp, Vibraphone, Acoustic Guitar
Samúel: Guitar
Casper: vocals, melodica, piano, drums
Mads: instruments programming, noises, glitches & reconstruction
Daniel: glitches
Doddi: Cello

Rjúpa
(written by Ólafur Josephsson, words by Birgir Hilmarsson)
Ólafur: Guitars, Bass, Banjo, mandolin, melodica, acoustic guitar, vibraphone
Birgir: Vocals
Ingibjörg: piano
Greg Haines: Accordian
Daniel: Drums, mandolin
Lárus: Bells

Hausi
(written by Samúel White & Ólafur Josephsson, words by Minco Eggersman)
Ólafur: Guitars, Bass, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Bells, backing vocals
Samúel: Guitar
Minco: Vocals
Daniel: Drums, B4 organ, Electric Piano
Doddi: Cello
Töddi: Trombone

Kvef
(written by Ólafur Josephsson, words by Birgir Hilmarsson)
Ólafur: Guitars, Piano, Synths, Drum Programming, Glockenspiel, Harp, B4 Organ
Birgir: Vocals
Lárus: Bells
Daniel: Drums

Þurr Þurr
(written by Ólafur Josephsson, words by Daniel Lovegrove)
Ólafur: Guitars, Bass, Piano, Pump Organ, Acoustic Guitar, Dulcimer Harp, Synths, Glitches
Lárus: Bells, Acoustic Guitar
Daniel: Vocals, Glitches, Drum Programming

Glussi
(written by Ólafur Josephsson & Daniel Lovegrove)
Ólafur: Guitars, Bass, Piano, B4 Organ, Glitches, Electric Piano
Daniel: Drums, Bass, Guitars, Synths

Veggur
(written by Ólafur Josephsson)
Ólafur: Guitars, Bass, Piano, Glockenspiel, Synths
Daniel: Drums, Bass, Glitches,
Birgir: Voices

REVIEWS:

EVILSPONGE
I am not the most organized of people, as i will freely admit. Take this disc for example. Back in July, just after i had moved into my new home, i received a promo package from the UK. It contained a few CDs and some 7″ records from a couple of different labels. I filed the 7″s on one shelf, and the CDs went into the general “to review” stack.

Imagine my surprise when, in January 2008, i was looking through the 7″s, spending a chilly January evening sitting in front of the stereo with a cat in my lap and a nice hot cup of chamomile, spinning 7″s, when i came across this CD. It had been stuck in the plastic bag containing two of the singles, and i honestly had no idea it was there until recently.

That’s a shame, because there is some pretty lovely music on this CD. Stafrænn Hákon is the project of one Ólafur Josephsson, an Icelander. I reviewed a split 7″ he did a while back, and i guess the UK promo people sent me this to see what i would think of a whole album. I compared the one song i had heard by Hákon to Sigur Ros, but was ashamed to so easily lump all Icelanders into one category of delicate, vaguely orchestral post-rock. Well, listening to this CD reminds me a lot of Sigur Ros, with a little Radiohead thrown in at certain times, so maybe all Icelanders are making similar music these days! Who knows?

Anyway, so, yes, this is a record of sparsely recorded post-rock, with long drawn out guitar bits, droning organ, tinkling percussion, strummed strings (is that a harp?), and emotive wordless singing that draws out the notes. If you like what Sigur Ros is doing, then this will appeal to you. I think that Stafrænn Hákon do this as well as anyone, and in fact make my favorite song in this genre, which i am dubbing The Icelandic Post-Rock Conspiracy.

The song in question is Hausi, and here the voice sounds different than on all of the other Icelandic Post-Rock Conspiracy tunes. The first thing you notice is that it sounds almost as if Josephsson was recorded then slowed down, lowering the timbre just a bit. The vocals are very slow, but i freely admit that this could be a stylistic choice. The important difference is that he is singing, in English, plainly, slowly, and beautifully. The words actually add a heaping dose of interest. He’s no Karl Hendricks, but Josephsson’s words do well enough. This addition, coupled with the flowing music that Icelanders do so well, makes this song really stand out. In a genre where no one sings words, the wordless song is imparted with extra depth of meaning. I like it.

Also of note is Veggur, which is normal for this genre, but exceedingly well done. The percussion here tinkles along delicately, with long slow wordless vocals. Josephsson’s voice is used here to great effect, exactly like the voice in Sigur Ros. Combined with Hákon droning guitars, the overall effect creates a chilly, echoing expanse of sound. And that is what resonates me most about The Icelandic Post-Rock Conspiracy bands: the music defines large, wide open spaces. The production allows plenty of room for each instrument to resonate, and the long, drawn out notes and wordless vocals seem to echo forever.

Overall, while Stafrænn Hákon aren’t breaking any new boundaries (except, maybe, by using actual lyrics!), this is still well done. Now i wonder if there are any other treasures hidden among the stacks of promos and records…

NORMAN RECORDS
Stafraenn Hakon A.K.A Olafur Josephsson has his fourth long player out on Resonant. ‘Gummi’ is more of that trademark Icelandic warmth that melts the snow. Acoustic elements fuse with gentle vocals and atmospheric electronics to create a cinematic album that will appeal to fans of Sigur Ros. CD only. (this is a total twinklefest!!- P x) 8/10

ALMOST COOL
Gummi is the fourth full length album from Stafraenn Hakon (the pseudonym of one Icelandic musician Olafur Josephsson), and is being proclaimed as a giant step forward in his sound. I haven’t heard his past releases, but based on the epic sounds of this nine-song, one hour release, I have to imagine that descriptions are correct, as the release sounds as big in scope as releases by a certain other Icelandic troupe. Joined by a slew of musicians, as well as some guest singers (this is his first non-instrumental work), it’s a lush release of evocative post rock music.

I hinted at it above, but I might as well go ahead and say that Stafraenn Hakon is very comparable to Sigur Ros, although it’s missing the high-pitched crooning of Jonski Birgisson. Opening track “Járn” sets the stage perfectly, with glints of harp and quiet skittery beats playing softly over pounding tom drums as guitars take shape out of feedback drones and other melodies slowly creep forward. About halfway through, everything comes together in a pretty (if not hugely loud) crescendo that incorporates everything from banjo and stringed instruments to programmed electronics. “Svefn” follows, and features Birgir Hilmarsson on vocals as another huge-sounding track unfolds behind him, with thick drumming layered in behind subtle horns, loads of shimmering guitars, chimes, and more quiet electronic beats.

It’s not all massive pomp, though, and wisely Gummi plays it a bit more sparse in places, allowing a bit of breathing room. “Rjúpa” opens things up a lot more, giving space to accordion, piano, and banjo while some ephemeral wisps swirl around the edges of vocals by Hilmarsson. There’s one short punctuation about two-thirds of the way through, but otherwise it keeps things quiet and quivering. One of the best vocal tracks on the release features Minco Eggersman, and it’s mainly due to the vocals themselves. Instead of the higher lilt of the other singers, his rich baritone offsets the sparkling music even more, while the instrumentation is as thick and stunning as anything on the album.

In many ways, Gummi is put together like a lot of albums that cut through similar music waters. Even during the quiet parts, it seems as if the album is always building towards some sort of cathartic release, and while the album is immaculately recorded, some of the wonder has left the room in terms of music in this genre in general. Padded with atmosphere, Gummi should certainly appeal to those needing a bit of a sweeping post rock fix.
7.25

MÚSIPLA MÚLTICA
Nunca ouviu falar nesses caras? Não? Então não se preocupe, pois você não é o único. Eu descobri o Stafrænn Hákon por acaso numa comunidade de post-rock do Orkut e, quase que instantaneamente me apaixonei pelo som desses islandeses.

A banda foi formada em 1999, por Ólafur Josephsson, Samuel White e Daniel Lovegrove, além de colaboradores constantes, mas especiais, como Birgir Hilmarsson, entre outros músicos do país. O legal (e honesto) dos caras é que eles não negam em nenhum momento a tietagem e a influência musical pelos seus compatriotas mais famosos, o já famoso (e a melhor banda da atualidade, se me permitem) Sigur Rós.

De 1999 pra cá, foram 5 álbuns e 2 EP’s, inicialmente lançados apenas no mercado islandês, discos estes que depois despertaram o interesse da Ressonant Records e Nature Bliss, gravadoras que apostam em bandas novas, e assim, espalhar o seu ótimo som mundo afora.

“Gummi”, lançado em 2007, tem nove músicas, deixando bem claro que o Stafrænn Hákon aposta num post-rock muito bom, com batidas eletrônicas, muito teclado, muito piano e uma guitarra bem viajante. Cinco delas são instrumentais muito bonitas, passando pela faixa que abre o CD, “Járn”, passando por “P-Rofi” (com muito teclado) e a espacial “Glussi”, com sua bateria como se estivesse tocando uma marcha militar e que me faz lembrar o Ef em seu último disco “I Am Responsible”.

Nas faixas cantadas, o destaque fica para a maravilhosa “Svefn”, com os vocais ótimos de Bilgir e uma batida de sinos simplesmente hipnótica, em “Kvef”, que segue a mesma linha com o teclado fazendo o pano de fundo perfeito para a voz de Birgir arrematar o looping, nos levando a lugares desconhecidos e trazendo paz à nossa mente (e não estamos falando de músicas para meditação =P).

Já “Pur Pur”, quase que totalmente eletrônica, é mais alegre, mais contagiante, mais ‘pop’ e vai agradar os ouvintes mais felizes.“Rjúpa” tem acordeon, banjo e bandolim como instrumentos principais, dando um tom muito calmo e tranqüilo à música, com o auxílio de uma bateria suave e tendo mais uma vez o teclado como pano de fundo para a voz muito boa de Birgir, que não é membro fixo, mas que manda muito bem.

Em contrapartida, temos uma canção mais lenta, um tanto sombria mas com a beleza característica do som da banda. “Hausi” traz outro vocalista, Minco Eggersman, que possui uma voz mais grave, lembrando até em certos momentos Peter Steele do Type O’ Negative e umas passagens de cello muito bonitas.

A bolachinha termina com a viajante e emocionante “Veggur”, que ao longo de seus 9 minutos traz corais muito belos, com a bateria tocando em marcha e batidas eletrônicas sutis, mas muito bonitas, que levam o ouvinte para dentro de icebergs, descansando em solo ártico.

“Gummi” é um ótimo CD, que já obteve grande aceitação mundo afora e levou o Stafrænn Hákon a uma bem sucedida turnê norte americana e reconhecimento no mercado roqueiro europeu, mostrando que a Islândia ainda nos guarda muitas, e boas, surpresas. Recomendado!
Nota: 8,5

DELUSIONS OF ADEQUACY
Stafrænn Hakon may sound like a bizarrely named solo artist but in reality they are an alternative music collective from Iceland, masterminded by Olafur Josephsson, and Gummi is their fourth LP.The music on Gummi sounds like what would happen if you took the nocturnal meditations of The Album Leaf, mixed them with the artistic atmospherics of Sigur Ros and added a dash of the introspective glitch-pop of Efterklang. But while it sounds like a winning combination and an intriguing mix, and it mostly is, the palatial and open arrangements occasionally get bogged down with a few bars of sub-par vocals. But not so much that a few additional spins can’t render them tolerable and the music quite pleasurable.

Stafraenn Hakon’s songs are probably a bit more concrete and a bit less nebulous than Sigur Ros’ but they follow the same post-rock blueprint of slowly building from softer, subtler tones to louder, more dynamic rhythms. The gently rolling drums, periodic waves of placid keyboards and bright, reverb-drenched guitar leads do not so much erupt with bursting melodies, but rather come to a slow boil with an airy and dreamy ambience, thanks to a multitude of instruments (cello, glockenspiel, harp, mandolin, melodica, banjo, bells and such) chiming and tinkling at various periods throughout. The impressionistic compositions usually don’t stray too far into the nebulous atmosphere but stay grounded with drum programming, glitchy beats, sporadic snare snaps and a few organic sounds providing some rhythm to the warm melodies.

The brilliant instrumental opener “Járn” and the exquisite “Glussi” lean more towards The Album Leaf, while the aesthetically pleasing and more atmospheric “Svefn” and “P-Rofi”, two of the six vocal tracks, borrow more elements from Sigur Rós, but are just as dazzling. “Kvef” blends in the Efterklang influence while the other tracks successfully merge all three into a distinctly Stafraenn Hakon sound but are not as mellifluous and dip into ambient territory without the sweeping arrangements employed on the other tracks.

The fade-in and fade-out pattern and extended duration of a few tracks, along with a couple vocal regressions, create some tedious moments, but ultimately Gummi is a welcome musical diversion and Stafrænn Hakon have found a nice niche in the artistic and atmospheric post-rock world.