It has been said that in Iceland one out every ten people will publish some sort of writing in their lifetime; one has to wonder if these numbers are relevant to the musicians here in Iceland as well. For a nation of just over 330,000 people there is a staggering number of talented musicians that most of the world has yet to discover. Spanning a wide variety of sounds one of the newest and most unique sounds belongs to that of Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson who goes by the alias of Júníus Meyvant.
The singer from the Westman Islands (a small series of islands off the south coast of Iceland) combines a soulful mix of dreamy folk, orchestral sound, and big band 60’s feel with a new age pop twist. The band consisting of Meyvant and a varying crew of accompaniment ranging from horns to strings, percussion to backup vocals creates a definitive sound that naturally flows like the relatively calm yet unpredictably explosiveness of the island of Iceland. Meyvant’s debut album Floating Harmonies has been receiving quite a bit of acclaim throughout Europe and in his home country of Iceland where he was nominated for Male Singer of the Year, as well as Best Pop Song of the Year (Hailslide) at the 2016 Iceland Music awards.
Whilst his music has only slowly begun to reach North America mainly via the Seattle based radio station KEXP highlighting his performance at Iceland Airwaves in 2014 he has remerged in 2016 with the band to promote Floating Harmonies on a debut tour through Europe. He kicked the tour off in Reykjavik on Saturday the 27th of August for somewhat of a hometown crowd at the seated concert hall Háskólabíó.
Júníus Meyvant’s 17 person ensemble which includes his two brothers, three violinists, a cello, and a four person rotating horn section among other things, brought a special energy to the building.
When the band stepped on stage to warm up with Floating Harmonies first track and the instrumental tune “Be a Man” the stage was set. Big horns, strumming violins and an essence that the song was specifically composed as a theme song to an epic scene in a movie lit up the concert hall. As they transitioned to more songs from the album Meyvant, dedicated one of the albums hits “Hailslide” to a newlywed couple visiting from New York.
Meyvant is a subtly hilarious individual with Nordic appeal; a ginger beard, long golden red hair and a voice that gently ripples in and out of the diversified tones that he has composed. He got the crowd to chuckle in between each of his song with his tastefully funny remarks. To a foreigner the Icelandic language is incomprehensible but the woman next to me was helping me to understand…. “wait, what did he just say?” Somehow I was still only getting the gist of it.
Most of Meyvant’s songs are all in English and vary from melancholy love songs of yearning to soulful dishes of inspiration written in a rich tone that brings about joy when it hits the ear.
The joyful tunes continued as the band harmoniously tip-toed into the songs “Mighty Backbone” and “Signals.” The mighty stable and orchestrated tone of the band so intricately guided by Meyvant’s raspy yet soothing voice. Shifting fluidly through the time changes. When they finished the band slowly left the stage and Meyvant jokingly commented that they had just found out they were only getting paid for half the show.
Without the full band Meyvant still had a lot of character and confidence, his voice brought an intimate ambiance to the room as he was lifted by the slide guitar and piano throughout the more folky and toned down songs “Pearl in a Sandbox” and “Floating Harmonies.”
The band returned and the bongos began beating rhythmically as the violins found shape in the song “Beat Silent Need” leading to frantic horns that ran around Meyvant’s lyrics “Don’t let my feet run over you.” The sound defined the show and surged with vitality as they lead into the groups two most popular songs “Color Decay”which exhibited a celestial feel as his backup vocalists echoed his ringing voice. The final song the uplifting tune of “Neon Experience” brought about the soulful reminder of not letting us get down on ourselves as Meyvant sang, “don’t let the whole world break you down, a new day will come, come around.”
It exuded a euphoric sense of piece of mind and tapping feet as the heads in the crowd began to sway to Meyvant’s fiery group.
It’s hard to say the last time I’ve felt so moved at a concert and with such a big scale band in place it was incredible to hear how well it played out. Even Meyvant playfully said you can imagine with such a huge band its easy to lose musicians, as they waited for the drummer to join them for a two song encore of yet to be released songs. Be on the look out for Meyvant and his group as they make their way through Europe and keep your fingers crossed that he’ll make his way across the sea to North America…..I guess he’s practically half way there.