Sung half in English and half in Icelandic, Menn Ársins self-titled album is definitely an interesting one. It’s odd in that it’s not exactly different then lots of music in the crowded alternative scene, but the lyrics set it apart…at least for American audiences. I will say this people…if you hear this album; make sure to buy a nice translation dictionary (Hippocrene Books makes a pretty good affordable Concise Dictionary…just an idea). Released in 2008, the record caters to the more experimental listener, if for no other reason that on half the songs, most people will have no clue what singer Sváfnir Sigurðarson is saying. But in terms of the actual music itself outside of the Icelandic lyrics/song titles, Menn Ársins is a pretty solid record.
I first heard about Menn Ársins via an E-mail sent to me by bassist Sigurdór Guðmundsson who informed me of his band and the album. I have to say, I was pretty happy that I received the E-mail after I heard the music. Nothing sucks more than incompetent musicians thinking that they are good. This band doesn’t have to worry about that which is a step in the right direction. They have been featured multiple times on Nick Tann’s Is This Thing On? Podcast so if you get a chance to hear the Podcast…you might be lucky enough to hear the band’s music. At any rate, there is a link to this album in the Get Music Here section.
As mentioned, not much really sets the band apart musically compared to many of their peers other then the lyrics in a “foreign” language. I put foreign in quotations because… if you’re from Iceland/know the language then you know what they are saying. It’s all relative I guess. Regardless, it’s not as if Menn Ársins is a boring record. If anything it’s pretty interesting music for the average American listener due to the fact that it’s fascinating to hear another culture’s take on a poplar genre here in the States. I have to wonder if people from other countries then the USA feel the same way about our music. I highly doubt it…but if there are any readers out there from another country…leave a comment, I’d like to hear somebody’s take on it.
In terms of the actual music being played on the record, it’s above average for the vast majority of the time. One of the few weak points is Þegar augu okkar mætast. I say that not because it’s a bad song, but it just seems like something that has been done before by countless bands. Here’s the thing about this album and I said the same thing about Forget Paris. Even if the band’s music is something that is commonplace there is still a place for it in that if it’s good, people will enjoy it.
My favourite song on the album is probably Love to Turn You On. It’s a damn good rock song. It’s an example of Sváfnir Sigurðarson’s vocals where it shows that the guy has a great voice. It’s deep and clear. Now when it comes to a singer sounding good on record…you all know my views on that. That said, go check them out live via YouTube, it was a great surprise for me. So often, a singer that has that tone on record never comes close to it live, but Sigurðarson does it with ease.
The rest of the band is really talented. One of the bigger aspects of the band’s sound is keyboardist Haraldur Vignir Sveinbjörnsson. A secret weapon if you will. Bands that incorporate keys can either have one of two things occur. Either the band is light years ahead of where they could be as a band, or they instead rely on the keys to an extent where it’s a detriment to the band. Fortunately, Menn Ársins is able to strike that perfect balance.
The rhythm section of the band is also pretty good. I mean the bass playing for example is really good. Then again, I am a huge fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so most bassists I listen to have to measure up to Flea. Not easy…but Guðmundsson does come pretty close. It’s obviously a different style but I do know that if the band makes it big here in the USA, he will be seen as one of the better bass players in current US popular music. As for the drums, I get the feeling that of all the great things about the band, Kjartan Guðnason is probably the weakest spoke in the wheel. Is he a good drummer? Yes. Does he play up to the standard of the rest of the band…probably not. Still, he is not a liability on this record and sounds much better then lots of other drummers out there in the wilderness of music.
Menn Ársins has created a great summer record. It’s a good rock record, but also has some grooves to it that perfectly fits the summer time. A bit darker musically then maybe some other records you would think of in the summer, but still it’s a good melodic album to just hang out and listen to on a summer day where the weather sucks. It’s a very good album that truthfully couldn’t be all that much better the majority of the time.