Well, we’ve been back home for almost a week and Iceland Airwaves 2017 already feels like it happened months ago. Or at least it does until I look at my “To Listen To” shelf, which is sagging under the weight of music on vinyl, CD, and even cassette. There’s so much of it that it makes me antsy just looking at it – I don’t want the process of going through it to feel like work, but at the same time I’m anxious to get to all of it. Since I feel like this calls for some semblance of a plan, I’m going to try to focus on the newest releases first, especially those that came out in 2017, so I can make sure I don’t overlook some gem for my year-end best-of lists. With that in mind, the first thing I grabbed off the shelf is Mammút’s Kinder Versions.
We first encountered Mammút back in 2010, seeing them live in Reykjavik and picking up a copy of 2008s Karkari. At that point Mammút were already well-established in the Icelandic music scene, having won the national battle of the bands, Músiktilraunir, in 2004 and with a pair of successful albums under their belt. One of the things that struck me about the band over the years is that almost all of their material is sung in Icelandic; in fact singer Katrína Mogensen often seemed apprehensive to speak English to the crowd at all, which is a bit unusual at an international event like Airwaves. Given that I was a bit surprised to learn that Kinder Versions is sung entirely in English.
Reviewers and critics have been heaping praise on this latest effort. And rightfully so – it’s an intriguing album. Over the years the band has seemingly moved away from their more aggressive punk roots to more mellow territory, a trend that started with 2013s Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir and continues on Kinder Versions, the emphasis on Mogensen’s vocals becoming more and more apparent. In my review of that earlier album I remarked how much she sounds like Björk, and while that may seem like a cop out comparison (comparing a female Icelandic singer to the most famous Icelandic singer ever…), it also happens to be accurate, perhaps even more so on Kinder Versions. The opening track “We Tried Love” could easily be something off a Björk solo record, and I fully mean that as a compliment. But this is hardly a copy-cat kind of album, as is evident on songs like the brilliant “Kinder Versions” with its internal stylistic changes, the vocal distortions on “Bye Bye”, and the breathlessness of “The Moon Will Never Turn On Me”.
There’s an undercurrent of simmering sensuality running throughout Kinder Versions. At times it’s overtly physical, as on “Breathe Into Me”, but mostly it’s simply part of an overall feeling from the music and vocals. While I miss Mammút’s earlier, more overtly passionate and aggressive feel, Kinder Versions is clearly the work of a very mature band that understands exactly what it wants to accomplish and does so with style. You can listen to it HERE, or check out the live video of the title track below.