Afterglow by Ásgeir – Album Review
by Jake Penn
After the release of In the Silence in early 2014, Afterglow by Iceland’s Ásgeir arrived on our radars in May 2017, the only two albums by the Scandinavian to be received by the human ear in the Queen’s English (although not entirely).
Through a tried and tested mixture of acoustic and electro-pop, Ásgeir manages to introduce a folky edge to an incredibly complete and solemn-sounding second album. Off the back of the success of the track ‘King and Cross’, it appears as though elements of this have been brought forward in the form of a ‘hook’ nestled within a well formulated composition and incorporated in many of his new works.
Whereas Ásgeir’s first album addressed situations such as the warmth of home, he has now chosen to branch outward and into the cold Icelandic distance, pining and travelling through harsh conditions to find ‘his love’. Within the realms of these adverse weather conditions, Ásgeir manages to create a depth to both his music and his lyrics, creating a mirror image between his own minimalist sound alongside the minimal aesthetic elements provided by a barren Icelandic backdrop.
This album finds itself entering an already internationally recognised Icelandic crowd, with other party members such as Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men and obviously the renowned Ms Bjork. With its style not too dissimilar to that of the grand Sigur Rós, Afterglow appears to be quite typically ‘Icelandic’ due to the choice of song topic, the moody deliveries and even down to Iceland’s isolated geographical position in the world. Nonetheless this album should be recognised for its musical achievements and not just be branded with the same geographical brush.
Winding through each track the listener finds themselves starting with the incredibly strong title track. As the familiar falsetto tones are prompt, this gives a taste of the audible delights that await. We say farewell to the shimmering lakes of track one and leave town into the realms of the ‘Unbound’. When listening on my Bluetooth speakers, the intricate mechanics behind the instrumental plethora are delivered in an almost Doppler effect, sweeping through my front room, leaving a Jack Garratt-sized impression.
Again, the next track ‘Stardust’ addresses the issue of leaving one’s love and pining after her. For the maximum impact of this song, one must listen to the Mahogany session (below). This particular version reminds me of how a normally upbeat song can be transformed into something solemn and beautiful.
“Succinct and sombre”
Through the use of impeccable acoustics and the sincerity found in a single acoustic guitar, it is fair to say Afterglow, as an album, sets an ultimately relaxed and ‘listenable’ scene. Marching through ‘Here Comes the Wave In’ to the beat of powerful drums to then experience the heavier ‘Underneath It’ we find ourselves on our knees in the middle of the sixth track ‘Nothing’.
Like looking into a frozen Icelandic lake, this song possesses huge reflective power through short, succinct and sombre means. This is two minutes of angelic mastery with the power to transport its audience to a serene mental equilibrium. With the tempo restored, ‘I Know You Know’ is hugely catchy and retrieves the previous positive outlook we had at the start.
Then comes the majestic ‘Dreaming’, with shades of Justin Vernon’s timing and pitch, the horn section providing grandeur and eloquence that eventually meanders into the winding down of ‘New Day’.
The penultimate and metronomic ticking of ‘Fennir Yfir’ leads us to the final track aptly named ‘Hold’. As you may now be completely horizontal with your outlook on the day, do not be fooled, as Ásgeir has slipped back into his native Icelandic tongue. We have come full circle, an extract roughly translated as “looking back at the world and dreaming” we find ourselves looking back over Afterglow as an album.
Owning the ability to combine both physical and emotional landscapes across eleven unique tracks results in a solemn but not at all bleak outcome. We have devoted our time into delving through the mind of Ásgeir and the lasting impression is one of optimism, albeit on a bitterly cold Icelandic morning.