In 2012 a 20 year old Asgeir released a best selling album, in Icelandic ‘Dyrd í dauðathogn’. Two years later he released the same album in English as In The Silence to worldwide acclaim. His otherworldly vocals and the treasury of lyric poetry provided by his father left critics pondering the direction that the Reykjavik bard could follow. It was either the all familiar acoustic folk territory, or tap into the sprawling musical potential that electronica offers. His choice, which permeates throughout Afterglow is unmistakable.
In this, his second full length offering, Ásgeir largely jettisons the earthy sincerity of the acoustic guitar and drums to revel in synth-driven soundscapes. The first single and second track ‘Unbound’ showcases the heavier, glitchy electronics akin to ‘Higher’ from his debut album. The swirl of low-synths perfectly underlays the sweetness and restraint of his distinctive near-falsetto vocals. Unbound was added at the end of a lengthy album writing process. “Many of the songs on my new album took a long time in the making…we decided to give 'Unbound' a chance at the last minute...My brother Steini then wrote the lyrics, which are about living in the now and not getting stuck on the past and what we can't change." The track is a mashing of lyrical warmth with a semi-liquid sculpture of electronic harmony that will become a staple of his live sets.
Pop sensibilities are infused in the second single ‘Stardust’, amongst its glimmering, deep, harmonies and heartfelt vocals. With melancholy undertones beneath a sunlit melody the chorus has us adrift in Icelandic seas. His father’s lyrics leave us gliding over those bittersweet waters, “What’s the use of reaching for your heart when we sail miles apart”, speaking perhaps of unrequited love, “I’m the man that stands behind you real calm while you prove yourself”. Just as it mixes an energetic groove with pensive, pained lyricism the track blends digital with analogue to striking effect.
The title track ‘Afterglow’ risks becoming an underappreciated gem. Crystalline piano lines trickle underneath organic harmonies, building to to an illuminating vocal chorus. Yet somehow even amongst the grandest soundscapes Asgeir harks back to the assumedly glacial chill of his childhood village of just forty people. Lying just under each uttering of the honeyed lyrics “I know the afterglow makes it alright” are two chords which add a comforting dissonance that underpins the entire premise of shadow and light. Even towards the track’s ending it never gives that satisfying cadence, but where ‘Unbound’ does this with whirring pulses ‘Afterglow’ achieves it with gleaming tones that fall into nothingness as Asgeir sings of “Chasing away the shadows”.
A clear narrative darkens through as ‘Here Comes The Wave In’ sees Asgeir, "Watching shadows dancing on the wall…leaving all of this without torment". Driving and energetic the song allows jittery percussive rhythms to penetrate through an already swirling acoustic ambience. While ‘Underneath It’ is reminiscent of Asgeir’s ‘slow motion’ tracks from the debut release. With gospel like vocals charged with a raw energy the track seems hypnotic until its hit with frenetic distortions. It is a contrasting track offset by the soft curves and lyrical delivery, there is a sense of experimental ambition seeping through yet still not venturing too far from familiar tendencies.
The aptly titled ‘Nothing’ acts as a stripped down interlude with pained echoes of piano drowning underneath vocal interjections of “nothing left”. Distortions allow these vocals to pull away like the tides, leaving us trembling and forlorn. ‘I Know You Know’ is the daybreak over the record’s second act with a racy beat punctuated by an assortment of offbeat samples. The track showcases Asgeir’s ability to create a unique but instantly familiar mood with his trademark ‘full’ sound and persistent beat.
Afterglow’s 8th track actually appears on the extended edition of his debut album. Dreaming has been repackaged and sits well in its new home. The track’s dreamy overtones and delicately crafted vocal melodies that sink into a lulling fanfare illustrate how contrast is one of Asgeir’s greatest music assets, aside from his immutably pure vocals. He returns to his delightfully restrained acoustic numbers in New Day featuring ultra-light harmonies and sunny lyrics. “A new day has begun,” Asgeir says, each vocal phrase an uplifting zephyr, “This is what you made me feel” we reply softly.
‘Fennir Yfir’ brings back the shades of sheer cold from ‘Nothing’, but driven forth with an exposed melody that builds into an expansive climax. The track betrays a subtle sense of brooding with a harmony that is instinctively Asgeir.
When they are layered or when they stand alone Asgeir’s vocals create a powerful textual density that is sonically and thematically the most satisfying collection of sounds to fill your ears. So while Track Hold is a pensive finale, the swelling warmth paints the aftermath of a costly battle, a sad victory letting you walk away from Afterglow with a reverent image of a land you’ve never seen.
“I feel like I have achieved plenty already with this album, gotten to know myself better, feel like I’ve grown a lot. Not just because of the album, but it has definitely helped,” Asgeir says.
There’s something appealing about Asgeir’s music, his albums are put together as a familial effort, so that each track may be a culmination of two generations of lyrical talent, and an inexplicable appreciation of the thematic nature of music that seems almost exclusive to Scandanavian artists. Although Afterglow was written in English Asgeir has returned with lyrical additions from his father, a distinguished poet whose musings feel as though they should be littered amongst rare century old tapestries.
Great albums have their place in our lives and listening to them in every conceivable location and time they take on new meaning. Driving home from work, over coffee, in a busy street. What this album will mature into cannot be said. Yet it is a special album. Afterglow paints a soundscape that soars over blissful glaciers and mortal hearts yet by the end there are only rich, green pastures and a warmth that stays in your heart.