Strange and otherworldly, this labour of love gradually finds its way into your heart.
Mike Haydock 2012
Mike Lindsay went to Iceland in 2006. He met a girl called Harpa. He fell in love. But then he returned to London and lost touch with her. It wasn’t until 2010, while playing at the Iceland Airwaves festival with his band, Tunng, that Lindsay saw Harpa again, rekindled the affair and ended up falling in love with the country as a whole.
Harpa took Lindsay to a fishing town called Húsavík, and it struck him so much that he returned there last year in the hopes of finding musical inspiration. With just his guitar, laptop and tape echo machine, Lindsay set up a studio in a cabin overlooking Kinnafjoll (Cheek Mountain), and as he worked, he drew in an army of musicians from Húsavík and beyond. The result is an ode to his new home.
It’s a more sociable, happier story than Justin Vernon’s log-cabin-in-the-woods tale – and this album is inevitably cheerier than Bon Iver’s first record. A closer comparison is with Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast: the music has the same carefully crafted air, as though it was constructed by candlelight, and Lindsay’s warm, spoken vocals mimic Damon Gough as they chant over deconstructed folk patterns.
Cheek Mountain Thief is not always an easy listen. It’s bitty and fragmented. It toys with formulae. So yes, there are layered vocal harmonies throughout, but the album is also splintered with clatters and jitters: stabbing brass at the end of Nothing, skittish jazz drums on Snook Pattern, screeching “demons” on Showdown. It embraces you in a warm hug while poking you repeatedly in the ribs.
British and Icelandic textures interweave, Lindsay shaping images of the landscape. The rhythms on Spirit Fight sound like a horse race across the tundra, while the eccentric lyrics talk of mountains and snow and sand, and create their own textures – There’s a Line begins: “Glass falls off the table / The ghost is running late again / Voices in the wind machine / Whispering horses.”
At first strange and otherworldly, this labour of love gradually finds its way into your heart. Much like the country that inspired it.