So you’re a music fan, eager for new sounds. You’ve heard Iceland’s pretty cool and that it has more to offer than than Björkish brilliance and Sigur Rós serenity. You may even have ventured beyond Of Monsters And Men (following in the footsteps of Mumford & Sons), to bask in the elvish delight of Ólöf Arnalds, her decidedly more brooding cousin Ólafur, or the bewitching Sóley. And if you’ve have managed to poke about a bit more into the Íslensku tónlistarlífi (thanks Google Translate!) you will also have found a Pandora’s Box of – amongst myriad other genres, sub-genres and side-genres – electro, pop and of course electropop.
Which brings Counterfeit to Icelandic-Angolan-house-funk-electro-party-pop band Retro Stefson’s self-titled third album (and their first to hit the UK), released here on 25th March. There is a distinct Balearic feel to the record, which has a lot to do with the band’s wide-ranging influences, not least via brothers Unnsteinn and Logi’s afro-portuguese mum. But the band is far from one-dimensional; even they find it hard to describe their sound, but make a surprisingly accurate stab with a wonderfully heady-sounding ‘cocktail of genres’, involving metaphorical Cuba Libre and various other poisons which we probably shouldn’t go into.
So what can you actually expect when you get your hands on this enigmatic work of art? (And do try and get a physical copy if you can, as with most Icelandic bands, there’s lot of effort gone into the cover art, and the CD comes with seven different and beautiful postcards of each band member swathed moodily in coloured powder paint).
The band ease us gently into the album with opener ‘Solaris’, a perfect track for conjouring a vision of watching the sunrise trickle lazily across the gently lapping ocean at a chillout party after a night of debauchery at an Ibiza beach-front club. Don’t let this fool you into thinking you’re in for a chilled-out morning though. Standout track and single Glow follows (watch Unnsteinn and Logi gad about downtown Reykjavík in search of ice cream in the video). It’s a soul infused disco funk effusion, with delicious harmonies and that tell-tale afro influence. ‘Miss Nobody’ starts along similar lines, but has a nice fat helping of riff slap in the middle of this tale of the foibles of summertime romance, emphasising how multi-dimensional the band’s sound is. And there’s more: ‘She Said’ is a teaser, making you sit up at every hook and beg for the next beat to kick in; ‘Qween’ – the first release from the album in Iceland – blends lilting vocals and a serious bassline which you can bet the band will use to full effect in their live shows (something which you should not miss when they make it to the UK. Don’t even think about not going; everything you will hear about how much fun their gigs are is true). For me though (and I’m sure there will be dissenters – there really are too many good tracks to choose from) the tune of the album is ‘Time’, with its light, shade, and jarring chord progressions contrasting a subtle yet desperately funky bassline, it has the potential to be a hand-in-the-air house anthem.
So, dear music fan, do take a peek into the versatile and very funky world of Retro Stefson. And not just because they’re Icelandic. Do it because they’re awesome.
With thanks to Mark Ollard at @Iceblah for his Retro Stefson interview