eBay comes through once again with a reasonably priced 1970s Icelandic nugget, this time Spilverk Þjóðanna’s Sturla from 1977. The cover is certainly worse for wear, but most of the ugliness is on the reverse, and generally that’s not the kind of thing that worries me a ton unless it’s super bad. Plus it includes the insert, which is cool. But the vinyl inside is in nice shape, and that’s the important part.
Now, I write quite a bit about Icelandic music. Hell, I write about it a lot. But to be clear, I’m far from being an expert on it. For one thing, I’m not from Iceland. And I don’t speak (or read) Icelandic. But I do have well over 200 Icelandic albums (if you include CDs and cassettes) going all the way back to Nútímabörn in 1969, so I certainly have listened to my fair share of it. Then again, I’ve never sat down and listened to a Sigur Rós album from start to finish… so keep that all in mind. All that being said, an observation:
Musically, the 1970s in Iceland seem to have been all about folk and prog rock, at least as far as the home-grown bands were concerned.
Overgeneralization? Absolutely! But man… I pretty much know what I’m going to get when I drop the needle on one of these.
However… Sturla is actually pretty damn good. And hey, that’s not just me sayin’ that. The 2009 book 100 Bestu Plötur Íslandssögunnar put it at #10 on the list of the all-time best Icelandic albums, and a survey Dr. Gunni did in 2001 and re-published as part of his 2013 book Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland put it at #11. So that’s not just me talking. Real, live Icelanders say so too!
Dr. Gunni indicates that some of the songs on Sturla “came from a teen play Grænjaxlar (“Rookies“) that the band wrote music for, but others were composed especially for the album.” (p. 73) What I find compelling about the record is the different styles that appear throughout. I mean, the opening track “Sirkus Geira Smart” sounds a bit like Credence Clearwater Revival, “Arinbjarnsson” features accordion with an Italian vibe (you swear it will break into “That’s Amore” at any moment), “Eftir Predikun” is a choral arrangement, and “Hæ Hó” is straight-up folk rock. And that’s just half the songs on Side A. I was particularly struck by “Bob Hope” on the flip side, a track that started out with crowd noises and then had marching military boots underlying the music… I suspect this is a bit of a political number based on what I could glean from Google Translate, but I can’t be entirely sure.
The changing styles on Sturla kept it fresh for me, though for the most part this type of music is hard for me to enjoy when separated from its message, so my lack of Icelandic once again is a detriment. Maybe one of these days Rosetta Stone will offer a course in the language. Until then, though, I’ll just have to keep listening and wondering…