Building the lyrics of a record with the help of blood relative wordsmiths is an interesting method. There’s the risk of a disjointed concept and a lack of unity in perspective but if it’s conceived in the right way, with the right words and for the right reasons it can be beneficial.
Despite possessing a great voice, Ásgeir isn’t lyrically confident and has already had help before with this handicap. His previous album In The Silence was an English-language translation of his debut Icelandic-language album Dýrð í dauðaþögn. American musician turned Iceland resident John Grant, found his first release fascinating and volunteered to interpret the lyrics to give it international interest. Yet the original words were actually conceived by Ásgeir’s father. A poet by the name of Einar Georg Einarsson, who’s so well-known and respected in Icelandic waters that you can understand Ásgeir’s inferior complex.
However, as the album was a success critically and financially, he has enlisted his faðir’s help again on his new album Afterglow and has taken this even further by introducing his brother Steini (who wrote lead single ‘Unbound’) to the board. Rather being a messy too-many-cooks situation, it works well because the lyrics aren’t specific about a relationship or incident, carry universally understood themes of love and guidance, while the bringing of fresh ideas and lyrical experience to proceedings can only be a positive.
Like on the predecessor, Afterglow speaks a lot becoming one with nature. Along with the family bonding experience, a close connection to the environment is a totally an Icelandic thing and is always good for an evocative listen. Iceland possesses a beauty to behold in Aurora Borealis and lyrics such as “Look up to the stars, in the darkness glowing and when you’re out there soaring high” (‘Dreaming’) and “Afterglow, magic show. Shine across the earth tonight. Shimmering over the ocean” from the title track make you imagine Iceland’s flabbergasting landscapes.
These lyrics fit nicely in an album that like his new videos can be very vibrant, expansive and ambitious. They take Ásgeir’s production skills to a different level but not so far that he’s idiosyncratic folktronica style gets lost – there’s still piano, marching brass and acoustic guitars in the cauldron.
Ásgeir is inspired a lot by the digital mastery and vocals of James Blake (who like him has also covered his own father’s songs) and electronic forestry of Bon Iver and this noticeable influence is fused in much of the production. Asgeir multiplies his soothing timid voice, bends it and tampers with it in such a way he builds a choir of himself. Hear the C Duncan-reminiscent ‘Fennir Yfir’. The production is also beautifully imperfect with flickering uncertainty, drastic key changes, unexpected time signature breaks and stuttering jumps heard best in ‘Dreaming’. Furthermore the all-too-short Interlude ‘Nothing’ contains subtle yet quirky percussive sounds that could be described as electronic butterflies flapping their wings and show his advancement in compositional detail.
Although Ásgeir has embraced the English language now, he still includes an Icelandic language track in ‘Hold’ at the end of the album, which just like his respect for his family exemplifies that the Icelandic musician never forgets his roots.
Afterglow is out now on One Little Indian.