Epic Rain – “Somber Air”

Epic Rain came recommended to me back in 2012 by my friend Ingvar at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, so we made a point of checking them out at Iceland Airwaves that year at a little club, and caught them again in 2013 at an in-store off-venue performance at Lucky.  So it makes sense that when Ingvar started his own label, also named Lucky Records, that Epic Rain would be the first band he put out, releasing their sophomore album Somber Air last month.  And he did it first class, with a gatefold vinyl release that includes a copy of the album on CD inside – which is even better than a mp3 download card.

epicrainsomberair

The driving force behind Epic Rain is Jóhannes Birgir Pálmason, the lyricist and primary vocalist.  While the band lists their genre as “alternative” on their Facebook page, the style of Pálmason is more spoken than sung, and I see them as more of a hip hop group.  Though hip hop is an insufficient description for Epic Rain – this isn’t your standard bass-driven, smack-talking hip hop.  Not at all.  The music that provides the base on which Pálmason and sometimes co-vocalist Bragi Eiríkur Jóhannsson perform is drawn from all kinds of different genres, from country (“Shadow Of A Rose”) to military marches (“Dancing With Daggers”) to surf (“Nowhere Street”).  One of the things that differentiates Somber Air from Epic Rain’s 2012 full-length debut, Elegy, is that this musical layers are much broader in range and influence, and that’s also one of the things that makes it special.

It’s the vocals that truly define Epic Rain’s sound.  Pálmason’s delivery is a slightly raspy, almost forced whispered spoken word that creates a darker, sometimes desperate emotionally wrenching emotional state over the top of the music that fits his lyrics perfectly.

I turn my back on the city I’m committed to the road,
The boat is leaking and the water is freezing cold,

This world is made of stone and broken chains,
I’m digging for gold hoping for a change.

— “Shadow Of A Rose”

When Jóhannsson joins in the effect is even more jarring with his delivery that sounds remarkably like Louis Armstrong – all the more so when you see that the sound is coming from a relatively young man from Iceland.  The two of them together both contrast and compliment one another and give Epic Rain a sound that seems old and familiar… yet is really something new and different, particularly on the tracks “Somber Air” and “King of Beggars.”  Pálmason bought in some female vocalists for some of Somber Air‘s tracks as well, offering even more counters to his unique vocal style.  The singing of the co-vocalists, combined with the cadence of Pálmason’s unique delivery, often deliver startling contrasts.

The campfire needs a story about thieves and ghosts,
A lonely soul needs a fisherman’s rope,
The knife needs the touch of a filthy hand,
And the prison cell needs a guilty man.
— “Somber Air”

When trying to describe Epic Rain’s debut to others I generally did so as “they’re what hip hop would have sounded like if it had been invented in a jazz club or cabaret in the 1930s.”  With Somber Air Epic Rain broadens that scope by introducing a wider range of musical influences, while still retaining that old-time feel – something new out of something old.  It’s dusty and dark, a world inhabited by desperate lovers and petty criminals, the futureless young and the old-before-their-years losers.  It’s music that should be listened to in the dark with a cigarette and some straight whiskey.

It might be tough to track down a copy of Somber Air in the US, but fear not friends, because you purchase CD, vinyl, or digital download on the band’s Bandcamp page HERE.  If you’re tired of the same old same old, check out Epic Rain – they’ve got something new and interesting going on.