Those who know me in person may be getting sick of my love for Iceland – for its language and culture and nature and its entirety. It started for me with their pop music as it has for many-many people. Sigur Rós and Björk probably don’t need an introduction – it’s all the same if you like their music or not in this respect. You know they are from Iceland. You know they redefined many things about pop: music-writing, beauty, technology and performance. But Iceland (and of course Icelandic music) is much much more than this genius band and this visionary. And you do not necessarily have to look for great bands among the more established ones who have been around in the last 10-15 years. In Iceland you’re never late.
What else could be a better example for this than Retro Stefson, a 7-piece band which formed in Reykjavík in 2006 and whose members are still conspicuously young. Retro Stefson released their first album Montaña in the year of their formation and the sophomore effort followed in 2010 as a release at one of the most well-known Icelandic rock labels Kimi Records. Kimbabwe – as that album is called – got distribution outside Iceland and it certainly showed a rather ambitious yet creative and fresh band with a truly unique approach to music. Especially if we consider that all of them are at the beginning of their 20s.
Their mixture of funk and some really sensibly written pop-rock with a hint of electronic instrumentation certainly showed great promise. Retro Stefson is however not your everyday “pop-rock” band. Of course many take at least 21 steps back when they – prior to having listened to the band in question – hear that something is “pop-rock”. In their minds a really tacky picture is constructed of some people getting together playing awfully boring songs about love and longing and things like that. Well, Retro Stefson is not at all like that.
Retro Stefson is rock because they have drums, guitars and basses they are not afraid to use (fade in at 1.05 in their song Rome, Iowa off Kimbabwe and you’ll know better than ever) and they are pop because their lyrics are well-constructed and really nice to listen to, especially with such clever hooks written. However, Retro Stefson’s music has another hugely enjoyable face as well: jamming. And that’s where their funk-like attitude comes in and their live energy is let out. Up until now there was no need to go to a concert when you wanted to hear 7-9 minutes around one structure since Montaña and Kimbabwe were filled with jams like ‘Senseni’ and ‘Kimba’ which showed that this lot had a lot in them when it comes to making people dance, yet on albums with such catchy sounds and straightforwardly clever music it was a bit strange and off-putting. Not because these songs were inferior to the others, it’s just that you don’t expect Valentino Rossi to participate in X-Games as a rider pulling off tricks on his motorcycle.
And this is where Retro Stefson comes into the game. This third album is much more focused and much more dense than the previous two. And it’s just what we needed from the guys. 3-4 minutes a song, smartly arranged, nice – yet.. well, retro – synth sounds, a rhythm section tighter than the leggings you would want to put on an elephant and diverse, intriguing song-writing. Let it be the groovy yet soothing ‘Glow’, the quasi-house crowd-bouncer ‘Qween’, the electro-‘breakrock’ song ‘Time’, or ‘(o)Kami’, which could easily bring back quiet storm into popular music with its electric piano and guitar sound taking us to the golden age of psychedelic soul – you know these songs are gems. They also are relatively short but hey, that’s what the repeat all button is for. And the jams can come at the gigs.
Nowadays a significant part of musicians who want to keep the album format alive are aspiring to make a record which showcases the multi-talent of theirs, cramming hip-hop, rock, ballads and electronica-infused songs onto a single album which is supposed to be nice and inspiring but in fact, it takes the face and cohesion away.
Not in this case. Every single song shines and shouts the same: Retro Stefson er rosaleg hljómsveit*
*Retro Stefson are an awesome band