At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, the Icelandic people are a curious bunch. They are after all the people who at some point decided driving monster trucks up disused volcanoes was a good idea, and then made it some sort of unofficial national sport to boot. With this mind, it’s of little surprise to learn that such barely-contained lunacy has permeated its music – see Björk and Sigur Rós on that one.
Course, you can’t live on wanton individualism alone so there’s never been a better time for Iceland’s more accessible and mainstream offerings to come to the fore. Enter Retro Stefson who, fronted by brothers Unnsteinn and Logi Stefánsson, have become something approaching national heroes with a slew of national music awards under their belt. Following on from two local releases, this eponymous release sees reach out to a wider, international audience. The trouble is – whisper it – it’s a disappointment.
The issues at hand are two-fold. Firstly, you can’t help but notice how curiously dated the record feels, with aspects so irrevocably entrenched in the 1990s that it sometimes feels it should’ve come with an issue of Loaded, a Fast Show DVD and a Crash Bandicoot game to complete the picture. Be it ‘Miss Nobody’ or the especially-guilty mid-album track ‘Time’, it’s genuinely odd and jarring to find a contemporary record that sounds quite so out of time. Secondly, there’s a similarly alarming lack of character or distinctive qualities about the album. In an already crowded marketplace, you could easily list handfuls of other artists peddling similar tunes and vocal styles – it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to visualise ‘(O) Kami’ as a lost Maroon 5 single, while ‘She Said’ and ‘Julia’ suffer from a sense of being little more than dance-pop by numbers.
Whilst not a toe-curlingly bad record, Retro Stefsons’s newest offering never really escapes the clutches of ‘adequate’ either. Hamstrung by its own simultaneously dated sound and suffering from a crushing lack of identity and character, the whole listening experience just feels decidedly flat. There may me more to Icelandic than Björk and bowed guitars, but anyone wanting an arresting and interesting listening experience are best off looking elsewhere.