Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Are All Our Own Messengers

Late November Re-Run Edition, Originally from Last March

They arose, like a cold northern wind, chilling and overpowering.

Clearly, they were of the land - that isolated rock near the Arctic Circle -- but kept warm by the prevailing winds and waters.

A land dragged out of the agrarian age one short generation ago.

A place the size of England. But where England is home to nearly 50 million people, this place is home to about 300,000. And most of them live in the capital city... so when you venture outside, the country is nearly empty.

While... not quite empty. There's unspeakable beauty there. Beliefs as old as the ancient Gods. A place where you an literally go to the spot where America and Europe are pulling apart.

A place that looks like this:

A country that still reveres poets. And still eats hakarl (a dish of shark's head that's buried in sand for six months until it ferments and putrefies). And still believes in elves (even if they claim they only play that up for the tourists).

A country that puts on a massive music festival every October that culminates in a hangover party at the Blue Lagoon.

Four years ago, I discovered an Icelandic band called Soundspell. They were young (17 and 18) and had just won an Icelandic songwriting contest. It was clear that they'd listened to a lot of Sigur Ros and wore that influence on their sleeves.

They were so clearly Icelandic -- you could hear the strange wonders of the country in their songs and feel it in their performances.

But they were more rock-oriented than Sigur Ros... and sang in English.

So I made it my mission to talk them up to everyone I met for the better part of a year.

Soundspell made an album called An Ode to the Umbrella. It wasn't available in the U.S. and I couldn't find anywhere to buy it on the internet. On a whim, I found the email address of the (American) producer and wrote to him. Amazingly, he wrote back almost immediately.

I'd heard most of the songs on their MySpace page (yeah, I know, it was a long time ago). If Sigur Ros could break through, surely Soundspell would be the next big thing.

I wanted the album, but I couldn't find it anywhere. When I went back to Iceland the next year, I thought I could be it there.

The band said on their website that the CD was available at a chain record shop on the main shopping street. It wasn't in the racks, so I asked. And a typically gorgeous Icelandic woman went into the back and dug one out. The dollar was not doing well at the time and I mentally calculated how much I could afford to spend... then added 20%. But the actual price was 50% more than that.

So... reluctantly, I did not buy it.

It was cold in Iceland that Spring. There was snow. And wind.

And a car that was stuck in the snow for hours until someone came along and helped us push it to safety.

Over the next couple of years, the guys in Soundspell played a bunch of shows. The album never came out in the U.S. A few new songs snuck onto their MySpace page. Then their website disappeared. And they stopped updating their MySpace.

I wish I knew what happened. Maybe they're working on new material. Maybe they're in the studio. Or they broke up. Or they've just been busy studying, surviving, trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

I mean, they wouldn't have gone silent just because I didn't buy their album when I was in Iceland.



Holly A Hughes said...

The Icelandic temperament is very unpredictable -- the result of those long winter nights, wildly expensive alcohol, and the sky-high out-of-wedlock pregnancy rate. For all you know, that woman in the record store was the first cousin of one of the guys in Soundspell. When you walked away from buying the record (AFTER she'd gone to all the trouble of going to the back room...).

On the other hand, perhaps they just ate some bad puffin.

Alex said...

Puffin-related accidents are a leading cause of trouble in Iceland. (As you clearly know!)