Not many bands can lay claim to the kind of dramatic career development that the Icelandic band Árstíðir can. Formed in the wake of the 2008 stock market crash, they found themselves catapulted to the top of the Icelandic music charts within six months of their debut, and then forged ahead with their 2010 tour despite a volcanic eruption that stalled global travel.
In 2012, Árstíðir was the first Icelandic band to ever win the Eiserner Eversteiner European Folk Music Award (in Plauen, Germany) and were scheduled to play the prestigious TFF Rudolstadt festival in July 2013. While on tour in Germany that year, an impromptu performance of “Heyr himna smiður” in the Bürger Bahnhof train station in Wuppertal swept them up in a tidal wave of international attention. Hastily recorded by a friend who posted it to YouTube, the video received more than four million views and sparked global interest in both the band and Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson’s composition.
By May 2014, they had launched a Kickstarter campaign that quickly raised $70,000 (substantially exceeding the initial $20,000 goal) to finance their third album, Hvel (Spheres). In return for their investment, backers were promised not only a copy of the finished recording, but also gifts ranging from hand knit Icelandic sweaters to vials of volcanic ash from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption.
Once fully funded, the band took up residence in Toppstödin, an abandoned coal-fired power plant that had stood empty for two decades before a group of artists and entrepreneurs repurposed it as a creative space. The acoustics in the space provided them with an ideal environment for composing and rehearsing, and regular visits and feedback from album producer and multi-instrumentalist Styrmir Hauksson (Ásgeir, Of Monsters and Men, GusGus) pushed the band to excel at their unique brand of collaborative composition, which involved individual members bringing a seed of an idea to the group after which they worked out the finer points of music, lyrics and arrangement. As soon as they were satisfied with the tracks, the band moved down the road to Orgelsmiðjan, a studio in Reykjavík and home to many of Iceland’s renowned recording artists (Of Monsters and Men and John Grant). The result is a collection of songs which weave both traditional and electronically-inspired instrumental threads together with soaring vocal harmonies, and that critics have described as “beautiful and atmospheric” and “utterly mesmerizing.”
Árstíðir’s music defies genre borders and might best be described as classically influenced indie folk rock. Whether in a train station in Germany, a concert hall in Russia or a bar at home in Reykjavík, theirs is music that mesmerizes audiences and creates a kind of intimacy leading critics to write, “[Hvel] is simply a stunning album, beautifully written and arranged, with a real magical quality to it,” and that live performances “may be the closest I’ve ever come to worship.” The band members’ wide range of musical backgrounds and experience, combined with professional interests ranging from law to literature and engineering to computers, make them unique in their wholly democratic approach to music making and performance. Entwining the elements of sound with lyrics describing heartbreak, longing, memory and a deep connection to the circular oneness of life, they marry organic acoustic traditions and modern electronic arrangements with intricate simplicity and unpretentious skill.
After an adventure-filled coast-to-coast tour of the U.S., Árstíðir now looks forward to performing Hvel for audiences on the other side of the Atlantic as they reconnect with seasoned supporters and form new bonds with green listeners. With their sweeping vocal harmonies backed by lush layered orchestral instrumental arrangements, Árstíðir sings, “Not everything you feel can be seen, but the feeling lasts so long” and hopes that what the audience feels will linger long after the last note is played.