We’re a little late with this one but Nanna’s three singles to date, all released since January, haven’t exactly been accompanied by a fanfare and it was only by chance I discovered them at all.
There can be only one Nanna in Icelandic music, namely Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, one of the vocal duo that fronts Of Monsters and Men and a major part of the writing team for that band which seems to be taking a break since a rehash of its debut album as ‘My Head is an Animal – the Cabin Sessions’ and before that the EP ‘Tiu’ and a documentary film were released last year.
And which is as good a time as any to reinstate a ‘solo project’ I suppose. That’s how Nanna started of course, as ‘Songbird’, a project that ultimately led on to OMAM.
I know there are people, including some critics, who for one reason or another don’t like OMAM, while to me they were a breath of fresh air from the moment they dropped ‘My Head is an Animal’ in 2012 and its iconic single ‘Little Talks’ but I have to admit that they seemed to have lost the plot a little the last time I saw them live in 2019, delivering a set that was so subpar that I didn’t even bother to go see them at Iceland Airwaves a few months later.
Perhaps a little break is what they need. Or a little talk.
But there is no denying at all that Nanna writes some beautiful ballads. Think of ‘Love, Love, Love’ for example, or ‘Organs.’
On 13th January she released the single ‘Godzilla’ as Nanna, followed by a second one, ‘Crybaby’ on 22nd February, along with an announcement that a solo album entitled ‘How to start a Garden’ is to be released on 5th May. Then on 5th April, she released a third one, ‘Disaster Master’.
The first single, ‘Godzilla’ could have been an OMAM ballad from any of the albums, delivered in that melancholic, husky, whisky-throated style that she’s patented and outlining a disoriented period in her life not dissimilar from the one Gurli Octavia paints in her album ‘I could be blossoming instead’ but with the movie monster as the metaphor rather than the bottle.
‘Crybaby’, which like its predecessor she wrote in a cabin outside of Reykjavik, is nearer to the full-throated OMAM anthemic roar and I noticed an OMAM riff or two in it. It documents, intriguingly, how sorry she felt for herself alone in her little cabin while everyone else is partying downtown, as they do in that neck of the woods. The title reflects her dismay and embarrassment at her own self-pity.
Which brings us to the latest release, ‘Disaster Master’, a song which, she says, reflects her personality trait of always fearing and expecting the worst and she expresses a desire to embrace chaos, to find some comfort even in that worst case scenario and thereby to ‘master’ the disaster.
This is a grittier, more serious and philosophical treatise and again, without intending to push the OMAM references too much, it does make me think of the depth of songs like ‘Little Talks’, which dealt ridiculously jauntily with dementia and ‘Yellow Light’, whose subject matter could be interpreted as anything from domination to madness to suicide.
I’m intrigued by the video. It can’t have cost much more than a fiver to make but Nanna risked breaking her neck jumping around on that moss-clad lava field. She must have got her mojo back after Crybaby’. She certainly mastered a potential disaster there.
I recall she was raised in Garður, on the bleak tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula coast near Keflavik Airport where she used to play games amongst the rocks with the other kids in the village, scaring each other with ghost stories. Some of them undoubtedly underpinned both her solo and band songwriting.
I’d guess it isn’t far from where the video was made and that she ‘came home’ to make it, just as the ‘Songbird’ did.
Each of these songs convinces me that this album will be well worth the short wait now until it sees the light of day.
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