I’m not sure how many times we’ve seen Vök live over the years. Four? Five? It’s something like that. The first time was in April 2013 right after they’d won Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s annual Battle Of The Bands. They seemed so young and shy on stage at Faktorý, but even then you could tell their sound was special. It’s been fun watching them evolve into confident performers, particularly vocalist Margrét Rán who is able to walk that magical fine line between self-assurance and vulnerability.
In The Dark is Vök’s second full-length release, coming on the heels of 2017s Figure and a pair of earlier EPs, Circles and Tension. It finds the band very polished, every song near-perfect in composition and production. Rán’s voice tends to stay in a lower register, husky and breathless, injecting a human element onto the primarily electronic musical canvas. If anything In The Dark feels like a more toward a more adult contemporary space. While that genre is oft-maligned and usually reserved to imply something less-than-favorable, those criticisms miss the point, the point that there is plenty of room for enjoyable music in that space. These songs can find a home on the dance floor, but also in your car stereo when you’re out and about making life happen. “No Direction” is my favorite track, one that breaks free a bit from the overall sound of In The Dark, its wave-like synths and Rán extending herself into a higher range making it a refreshing mid-point to the album.
Holly and I first experienced Vök at Reykjavik’s now defunct club Faktorý. And it wasn’t at Airwaves, but instead during a trip we took to Iceland in April 2013 with Holly’s mom. We didn’t schedule the trip around any shows – it just happened that FM Belfast and Prins Póló were playing a show together while we were there, and there was no way we were going to miss that. Vök had just won the Icelandic version of the “battle of the bands” and people were expecting big things from the duo (they’re now a trio). They certainly impressed us at that show, so when we saw they had a new four song EP out in 2015 we knew we needed to pick up a copy when we were in town for Airwaves. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize it was released on vinyl, so I ended up with a CD copy instead.
Tonight I’m sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles, where I’ve been working too many hours, and now I’m bored and tired and a bit too strung out to sleep. What I really want is to listen to some Vök… but of course while i remembered my iPod, I didn’t bring earbuds, my stupid hotel room doesn’t have a docking station (but they do sell Faygo cola in the lobby, so hopefully I won’t run into any roaming Juggalos), and I didn’t even bring the right cord to connect my old school iPod to my laptop. No problem though, I’ll just stream it online, right? No, because the mega-old version of IE my company laptop runs on isn’t compatable with Soundcloud. Technology is both amazing and amazingly frustrating.
Fortunately Vök have videos for two of the four songs on Circles posted on YouTube, so right now I’m grooving to the slow, trance-like beauty of “Waterfall.” Musically this is a fantastic song, with its moody synthy flow, but what really sets it off is the vocals of Margrét Rán Magnúsdóttir who is nothing short of brilliant. We saw Vök twice at Airwaves this year, and not only has Magnúsdóttir improved as a singer, but also as a performer – she’s absolutely captivating on stage. Her vocals seem strangely high and low at the same time, as if her natural range is higher but she’s trying to keep her voice as low as she can, giving it a sultry quality, but not in a sexual kind of way but more like someone who is completely exposing their inner most being to you. This style permeates Circles, defining it. The other highlight is the closing track, “Circles,” another slow smoldering number that just begs for a topper on your cocktail while you bob your head slowly and absorb the sound through your pores.
I strongly encourage you to give Circles a listen. I’ll be keeping my eyes (and ears) open for their future releases.