Hugar
Tracklist:
  1. Inngangur
  2. Upphaf
  3. Tími kominn
  4. Úti
  5. Aftur í tíma
  6. Felt
  7. Horn
  8. Fyrir norðan
  9. Holtið
  10. Segull
  11. Endalo

Let’s put one thing to bed straight away: on first listen of Hugar’s debut offering, one can easily make the obvious (and lazy) comparison to Sigur Rós, expecially their () and Valtari periods. While there might be a few musical parallels here and there, Hugar should in no way be compared to their uber-successful compatriots.

Having played together in bands for many years, Bergur Þórisson & Pétur Jónsson formed Hugar to “experiment and take our own direction in music.” Their freedom to work by their own rules has resulted in an intriguing album of gentle, often haunting yet warm instrumental pieces. There are hints of grandiosity, but it’s generally kept under wraps in a humble, almost self-conscious way. We don’t get huge, soaring crescendos throughout, and that’s a good thing as that would kind of defeat the object. Hugar opt for a far more subtle approach, giving their music a chance to wander and explore its surroundings.

That’s not to say this is background music for dinner parties or hotel receptions. Neither is it downbeat, maudlin or even slightly dark. There’s quite a lot going on here in fact, but it’s never over-complicated. It’s beauty lies in its simplicity and understated manner. Even so, there’s plenty of variety.

Úti’s strings are strangely uplifting and reassuring, while Holtið is built around acoustic guitars and drums with a brass-crooned melody. The aptly-titled Horn is a definite standout. With its electric guitars and drums, it’s about as close to ‘rock’ as the album gets and at one point even threatens to reach one of those crescendos, but it’s awash with playful brass instruments that manage to keep themselves under control and reign in the excitement.

Eventually we do get that crescendo we kind of knew was there all along. It comes in the closing track Endalok, but even then it’s not overblown or pompous – it just puts on a bit of a show for its entranced audience and then goes about its business without making a fuss, like a flock of starlings swooping and soaring against a setting sun on a calm autumn evening before settling down to roost.

And therein lies the charm for me. Hugar could have done the whole big, anthemic Sigur Rós thing and no doubt the critics would have wet themselves over it. Instead, they’ve resisted that tempatation and almost played within themselves to create a teasingly delightful debut that sets them up nicely for the future.

Clearly Hugar are not the finished article yet, there is plenty of room for manoeuvre and development, but they have set the bar rather high from the off.

‘Hugar’ by Hugar is available to download for free from their website [http://www.hugar.is/] in both MP3 and lossless formats. If you want to pay them a few krónur, you can get it from Bandcamp [http://hugar.bandcamp.com/album/hugar] and name your price.

 

– Rob Baker

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