By Chris Powers
Hipster culture’s embrace of the sad-eyed singer-songwriter reached its peak with the 2008 release of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. Something about a burly, bearded man singing in an airy falsetto from a remote cabin resonated with the right crowd, resulting in numerous festival headlining sets and even a Grammy award. Since then, various solo artists have incorporated the same forlorn, tortured artist-type aesthetic with other, more genre-focused, traits. The Tallest Man on Earth fervently finger picks his way through folk songscapes with Dylan-esque intricacy. Angel Olsen’s vintage country-tinged mopers recall a haunting take on classic Orbison. So where does Iceland’s Svavar Knútur fit into this mix?
Ölduslóð, Knútur’s third effort, appeals to the more whimsical and childish elements of sentimental indie-folk. Knútur’s humble tunes build on delicate ukulele plucks and gentle acoustic strums. Take “Baby Would You Marry Me,” the album’s opener, for example. The track finds Knútur exchanging pleasantries with the Swell Season’s Markéta Irglová regarding an idealistic relationship. While the song’s playful lyrics may rub some listeners the wrong way, they really capture Knútur’s shtick. His childlike approach feels natural and heartfelt. This may not be the most sophisticated singer-songwriter record in recent memory, but it’s definitely honest in its intentions.
On Ölduslóð, Knútur sings in both English and his Icelandic. “Emma,” a song dedicated to his young daughter, features Knútur’s native language. Despite not being able to decipher a single word, Knútur’s melody bears a special kind of warmth, one that could only be crafted by a loving father. The deep bass drum and hand claps on “Komdu” add a jaunty texture to a carefree “La la la” chorus. There’s an excitable timbre in Knútur voice. His melodies aren’t weighty or pretentious, which only adds to his innocent demeanor. Knútur seems to approach music with the same wonder as a kid learning to ride a bike for the first time.
Ölduslóð isn’t the soul-searching record listeners may have come to expect from the sensitive guy in the knit sweater with an acoustic guitar, and that’s alright. Knútur didn’t need to retreat to a distant cabin in pursuit of deep introspection to write these songs. They’re simple songs about family, happiness and love in its simplest forms. Always wide-eyed, but never naïve, Ölduslóð is a record for hopeless romantics whose youthful awe has yet to fade.