After three albums of four track recordings made in his home studio, Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Olafur Josephsson aka Stafrænn Håkon expanded his palette considerably with 2005’s exceptional Ventill/Poki album (Resonant RES009CD). It was a record that took his basic template of multi-tracked guitars played over computer loops and added extra instrumental colour. It was a dynamic, intense and emotional work that built on the foundations he’d established with his earlier albums to superb effect.
The new record features nearly a dozen guest musicians including fellow Resonant artist Birgir Hilmarsson who records as Blindfold. Similarities to that group are unavoidable since Hilmarsson sings on four of the nine tracks. In fact all but a couple of the pieces on Gummi feature vocals which is a dramatic break from the previous wholly instrumental works. And there lies the album’s biggest problem. The vocals dominate with the instrumentation pushed into a background supporting role, and, as songs, few are particularly strong. At times the tracks bare more than a passing resemblance to Sigur Rós, but many just sound like generic indie soft-rock a la Coldplay. Not quite that bad, perhaps, but getting there.
This is a shame, because there is often some quite inventive stuff going on in the background. Only the closing “Veggur” rises above the mire and works as a moving standalone piece. There are parallels here with the most recent Aereogramme album. That record was praised as their best in many quarters, but to these ears had dispensed with most of what made the band interesting to leave a piece of generic widescreen indie-rock. The same thing problem occurs with Gummi. No doubt it will garner Josephsson’s best reviews yet, but I can’t help thinking that it will be played a lot less than his earlier records by fans of his work. Not a disaster, but a disappointment.