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Introducing Fjöll (Iceland) – Honest Man (single)

Fjöll have an intriguing back story but have not featured here previously as most of their songs are in lcelandic, which must be one of the most unfathomable languages on the planet!

They are an old band but a new one in the sense that the members have been around for a long time in different guises.

The three members first got together in the 1990s via newspaper ad-listings and became a huge ‘one-hit wonder’ with a band called ‘Soma’ in 1997.They stayed together, releasing an album under the name ‘Stolið’ in 2000, and then a few songs throughout the years with various additional members and under a few different band names.

They promise that this time out they will stay the course longer. The band members are Guðmundur Annas Árnason (singer), Snorri Gunnarsson (guitar), and Kristinn Jón Arnarson, (bass). That reminds me that when I worked for Icelandair I knew a Guðmundur Árnason; he drove a tour bus as a guide for Reykjavik Excursions. Could it be the same one? Don’t discount anything in Iceland!

And the fourth member, Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, just got himself re-elected as the chairman of VR, the store and office workers union, the largest union in the country. He played with a couple of underground bands in the 90s, but then stopped playing until the others dragged him out of retirement a few years ago.

Perhaps they should record a cover of The Strawbs’ ‘Part of the Union’.

What we have now, for this Introducing feature, is a song, ‘Honest Man’, which they recorded a couple of years ago before going on hiatus due to members moving abroad for a few years. It was recorded in Sundlaugin, the studio Sigur Rós built in Mosfellsbær, just outside Reykjavik. Now they’re letting it loose on the world.

I’ve said before that you never know what to expect out of Iceland. Often it’s pretty wild, like the rugged landscape, but we even had a lullaby a few weeks ago, the most streamed song in the country‘s history. That earlier ‘one hit wonder’ was pretty punkish, with what looked like Bad Manners’ Buster Bloodvessel fronting it.

So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I checked out their previous single, ‘Festar’, (no not Uncle Fester, while we’re on Buster Bloodvessel lookalikes) and that qualifies as very melodic soft rock. It could have emerged from the US West Coast, circa 1980.

‘Honest Man’ is quite a long track at almost five and a half minutes, presented in the first half as a guitar/piano power ballad but in the second half the tempo increases into a solid rock song. Some of the vocal phrasing reminded me of the variety Arcade Fire’s Win Butler employed on songs on the album ‘The Suburbs’ if that means anything to them.

In between, there’s an intriguing protracted bridge that put me in mind of Of Monsters and Men, on their debut album ‘My Head is an Animal’, and especially the decisive conclusion of ‘Six Weeks’.

Lyrically the song seems to tell the story of a character who is the diametric opposite of Chumbawamba’s in their song ‘Tubthumping’ (“I get knocked down, but I get up again/You are never gonna keep me down”).

Think of the character Caspar Milquetoast, the comic book character created in 1924 by H.T. Webster for the cartoon The Timid Soul, one who “speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick”; the original snowflake.

“Too frail for this life/too weak to realise/that you fall more than you rise/you lose every time, you try/

but you rise and you rise/beaten down every time/you rise and you rise/falling down every time”.

I’m guessing the song was written about someone they know. I have a feeling that snowflakes would stand out like a sore thumb in Icelandic society.

You’ll need to listen to it a couple of times to get the full effect.

Just one question. Is Sigur Rós’ piano out of tune? It sounds a little odd, to my untrained ear.

I don’t know if ‘Honest Man’ will make them a one-hit wonder twice but it definitely deserves some airplay. Hopefully it might get some over here.

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