I first encountered Þórir Georg’s music in 2013 when Ingvar over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records handed me a copy of a brown envelope with a drawing on the front, Georg’s self-released and self-packaged “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Ingvar was pretty insistent that I check it out, and I’ve learned to trust the recommendations from my record store owning friends, so I took it back home to Seattle with me. And promptly forgot about it for close to six months. And then I played it. And it blew me away with its stripped down, lo-fi bleakness. Since then it seems like just about everywhere I turn I’m coming across another project Georg was or is involved with, from the hardcore punk of Fighting Shit to the killer psych/garage of Ofvitarnir to his various solo projects, he never ceases to impress me with the breadth of his musical vision.
Georg’s newest release, “Tíningur,” came out just a few days ago (as of the time I’m writing this) on his Bandcamp page, a five-song collection of ambient songs he’s worked on over the last decade. Though the number of songs is small, there’s actually a ton of music here – three tracks clock in at over a dozen minutes each and the album as a whole runs about 55 minutes. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it since my previous listening experiences with Georg have been of him playing and singing in more mainstream (i.e. rock/folk/punk/stuff with more rigidly defined song structures), so the idea of him expressing himself in a more electro-ambient format was intriguing.
The first track is, to me, the most compelling, though this likely says more about me than it does about Georg (note – the songs aren’t titled, simply assigned numbers one through five). It includes two different types of sounds, as near as I can tell – guitar and “background.” The guitar isn’t typical guitar playing, it’s more notes arranged in interesting ways, quietly, softly. There’s some echo and even a touch of feedback, and I suspect that it’s being manipulated electronically. But it’s the background sounds that draw me to it. Because it sounds like you’re listening to this interesting, minimalistic guitar work in a small coffee shop somewhere. There are indistinct voices in the background, the sounds of ceramic plates and cups clinking together, and I’m pretty sure at one point you can hear an espresso machine foaming some milk. It’s like you’re sitting in some cool little café somewhere, enjoying a cup of coffee, and hearing someone at another table quietly working out some things on a guitar. He’s not playing for you. He’s playing for him. You’re just part of the background. It feels like the expression of that odd sense of loneliness you can feel even when you’re in a public place and surrounded by other people.
I reached out to Þórir and asked him about that composition. “Those sounds are recordings I mixed in with the guitar, they weren’t the background noise where I was recording,” he told me. “I’ve made a habit out of it through the years to record the ambient sounds of different places I go to and sometimes I like to mix those recordings in with the music I’m working on.”
The other four tracks are a bit harder for me to describe, being a bit more typically ambient, a genre that to me defies words. “2” is a chill track with long sounds that blend into one another before jarring you with a sort of hissing sound about nine minutes into it, the precursor to a more haunting and spacey (though still minimal) vibe, taking you out of the groovy comfort zone you’d been chilling in. “3” is a slow building twelve minute odyssey, one of those numbers in which you don’t really notice the sound filling out and volume building until it’s almost done… and just in time for the artist to take it back down to a calm finish. “4” takes us into a much more electronically modified world, one of knobs and tubes and pipes and things that make sound warble. It’s industrial ambient. Still slow moving and sort of quiet, but with some jarring and unsettling sound combinations that ensure that you’ll never quite get comfortable, that it won’t fade into the background of your day. There is a pair of interludes that break up the confusion tickling your ears. It’s the stuff of sci-fi soundtracks. “5” brings us back to the coffee shop, though this time with a more aggressively and abrasively electronic sound than the quiet guitar we heard on “1.”
I always find that Þórir Georg’s music challenges me, taking me out of my comfort zone and forcing me to pay attention to it, and “Tiningur” is no exception. And that’s a good thing, because it’s all too easy today to fall into the “I just want something I can ignore” mode of musical consumption (and at that point it is in fact consumption, not listening). It reminds me that it’s important to be in the moment. Plus it’s pretty damn good too.