Sanitas (2010)

Catchy melodies and euphoric compositions constitute Stafrænn Hákon´s sixth album, Sanitas. The songs are yet intense and powerful and an adventurous continuation of Stafrænn Hákon´s last release, Gummi that Gaz – eta described as a wild ride the band again took the listener on.

Stafrænn Hákon has through the last years been described as a mix of post-rock, lo-fi, ambient guitar & electronica which still holds true to some extent though he with each album takes a giant leap and keeps growing as a musician. On Sanitas, Stafrænn Hákon travels to the other side of the sound spectrum, gradually moving further from electronica, subtle compositions and soothing melodies towards more straight forward, rock orientated compositions which the artist himself often describes as Power-Ambient, currently only audible to left handed polar bears.

On Sanitas, Stafrænn Hákon continues his explorative journey, this time by taking another daring but natural step towards more pop oriented and singalong melodies, something that a few years ago sounded unlikely for the ambient post-rock/electronica band.

Stafrænn Hákon continues sliding a comic or surreal twist to the songtitles as in previous records, challenging the epic and dreamy connotations his music has always been ascribed with. Humour in combination with sincerity has long been some of Stafrænn Hákon´s driving forces, a twisted combination that reflects a personal nuance for those curious to dig deeper into the mindworld of the man behind the band.

The songs on Sanitas build on certain elements from Stafrænn Hákon´s last album, Gummi, songs like “Second to none” with heavy guitars, layers of instruments and vocals that this time are further explored, thickened and hardened. Stafrænn also takes a step into a more darker place where elements of doom metal can be heard on the track “Val Kilmer” who was a huge inspiration for the recording sessions of Sanitas. The last album, Gummi, was described by Angry Ape as “a grandiose statement from an immensely talented musician. Rich in instrumentation and choc full of gorgeous, chiming melodies”, and “stuff so wonderfully blissed out, I’m not sure how it could be improved upon. This stuff is way beyond quality”, by Black and White magazine”. On Sanitas, the compositions move from subtle background music towards more aggressive and up front music with popular references and a faster tempo. The melodramatic atmosphere has stepped aside for upbeat songs with sloppy guitar solos and a sharp focus on the songs´ structures, again inviting the listener on a new and most rewarding journey.

The Icelandic born Ólafur Josephsson has been recording music since 1999 and is the mind behind Stafrænn Hákon. Since his first release that created a hype around it´s lo-fi DIY production in 2001, Olafur has travelled from Iceland to Scotland, to Denmark with his mobile home studio and is to take another journey in the following months, resettling in Iceland where …

Samuel White and Olafur Josephsson continue their close collaboration – a childhood friendship, that developed into a creative partnership keeps growing and developing. Samuel composed 4 tracks on this record that are in line with his former compositions, but this time more upbeat. As the producer of Sanitas, Daniel Lovegrove has undeniably become a vital part of Stafrænn Hakon, with his intense drumming and extensive arrangements, including vocals on 2 tracks as well as playing bass. On Sanitas we see fantastic contributions from Lárus Sigurðsson (a member of the side-project Calder) with his rich acoustic instrumentations, as well as vocals from Minco Eggersman and Magnús Freyr Gíslason. Stafrænn Hákon has collaborated with a broad range of artists and musicians and was aired at the late John Peel´s radio sessions amongst others. He has released material on The U.S based indie label Secret Eye, Resonant Records, Awkward Silence, Chat Blanc, Japanese Nature Bliss, and now for the first time on Darla Records (U.S & EU) and Happy Prince (ASIA). Released April 15th 2010.

Stafrænn Hákon on this album:

Olafur Josephsson: Guitars and guitar treatments, pianos, percussion, harmonium, bells, bass, keyboards, banjo, acoustic guitars.

Daniel Lovegrove: Bass, Drums, guitar, synths, harmonium, vocals on Post & Unwind tender dog!

Samuel White: guitar on Sanitas.
Lárus Sigurðsson: acoustic instruments.
Minco Eggersman: vocals on Second to none, Sanitas & Temporailty.
Magnús Freyr: vocals on Emmer Green & Provisional Meat.
Þórður Hermannsson: Cello on Bright and Second to none.
Rob: Backing Vocals & Trombone.
Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir: piano on Bright.

 

Lyrics:

SECOND TO NONE
i heard that we look much alike
i heard that we look much alike, equivalence
we couldn’t agree with you more
we couldn’t agree with you more, common sense
her eyes feel a lot like mine
her eyes feel a lot like mine, shrewdness
i heard that we look much alike
i heard that we look much alike, equivalence
we couldn’t agree with you more
no, we couldn’t agree with you more, common sense

my ears sound a lot like hers
my ears sound a lot like hers, shrewdness
i heard that we look much alike
i heard that we look much alike, equivalence
we couldn’t agree with you more
no, we couldn’t agree with you more, common sense
the skipping of our hearts’ beat
the skipping of our hearts’ beat, timeless
see if they would break it up, see if they would break it up, we wouldn’t last
see if they would break us up, see if they would break us up, we wouldn’t last
see if they would break it up, see if they would break it up, we wouldn’t last
see if they would break us up, see if they would break us up, we wouldn’t last

i heard that we look much alike
i heard that we look much alike, equivalence
we couldn’t agree with you more
no, we couldn’t agree with you more, common sense
the skipping of our hearts’ beat
the skipping of our hearts’ beat, timeless
the love which i speak of
the love which i speak of, second to none

EMMER GREEN:
How far you never seem to know….
Don´t let it break your heart now, you know he´ll figure it out…

I may sit alone, drawing circles in the stone, on my own
Draw a town and people gather round, trampling sound

RATIO 8:3 (at least)
war-like noise overhead, or just a plane making a hungry sound disturbing the ground
contrast, now quiet enough to sense the circulating dust in the room, i await the doom that never comes

(and probably)
waking up early just to check it’s safe to sleep
get up late to feel stupid

Hi, I’m a ghost who just appears when least welcome (you’ll find)
A spider in the bedroom with a plan to stay all weekend (you’re fine)
Despite logic, I’m prepared at the tiniest sign
I hope it pays to let your mind race most of the time

(don’t deconstruct until the time’s up)
next try
forced by
hindsight

Become a literary critic of post-it notes, just left for yourself,  some words on a shelf
Missing significant weight, it’s just a pompous trait strayed further from fact, and you’ll only retract if proven wrong
When you cut your words around, intention’s nowhere to be found

(evidently)
no-one’s any good or everyone is excellent
each attempt’s more deluded

Hi, I’m a ghost who just appears when least welcome (you’ll find)
A spider in the bedroom with a plan to stay all weekend (you’re fine)
Despite logic, I’m prepared at the tiniest sign
I hope it pays to let your mind race most of the time

(don’t deconstruct until the time’s up)
next try
forced by
hindsight

Like lopsided arguments, to get involved makes little sense
If you asked your future clone, he’d have problems of his own
(Balanced between what is felt and what is thought about)

SANITAS

i see trouble, where are you?
not in time, will that make two, tonight, tonight

sorrow’s seeping from the wood
hailing from this homegrown truth, tonight, tonight

see the house we built once more
open yet another door, tonight, tonight

i’m lost
carrying the dead
i’m lost
through a forest that’s not there…
on my back, the ghosts, beware
i’m lost

i’m lost
carrying the dead
i’m lost

i’m lost
carrying the dead
i’m lost
through a forest that’s not there…
on my back, the ghosts, beware
i’m lost

i’m lost
carrying the dead
i’m lost

i see trouble, where are you?
not in time, will that make two, tonight, tonight

home sweet home, i left you once
don’t think twice, cause you’re not there, tonight, tonight

PROVISONAL MEAT
I´m on the other side,
with all your painted signs
There´s this one black and blue
that paint’s another hue
Uptide swims on, i´m the river in your arms tonight….

TEMPORALITY
i should have seen it coming, after all
a blackened cloud persuading, stars to fall

i should have seen you coming, so sublime
a blood red sky polluting, cloud number nine

i’ve lost my sight, this is black on white
now i’m colorblind
i’ve lost my sight, this is black on white
now i’m colorblind

this interpretation, bothers me
i can’t seem to nail it, patiently

i know you told me twice that i’d known it once
but in the meantime i can only sit on my hands

like it’s nothing, or so to speak
i keep hitting dead ends, yes i am weak

i’ve lost my sight, this is black on white
now i’m colorblind
i’ve lost my sight, this is black on white
now i’m colorblind

i’ve lost my sight, this is black on white
black on white
black on white
this is black on white
black on white
black on white

YOU HAVE TO LET ME BORROW THIS
approximating faces to those
of people i have known

incorporated into real life
on relevance

through countless songs and pages, or scenes
like pieces of my own

displayed to represent who and what
as ornaments

(simultaneously consciously both)
a mesh of real and projected

finding a mentor
listening carefully
made everything easy
until i grew up

and felt the covers slipping off
oblivious of lines that I was meant to have crossed
less dependence
more development

but circumstantial knowledge is all
that can really be ingrained

appreciation without context is not
an existence

finding a mentor
listening carefully

Reviews:

ICELAND REVIEW

On The Road: Stafraenn Hákon – Sanitas
November 07, 2010 18:14
Updated: January 30, 2014 19:49
Review by Nanna Árnadóttir.

Stafraenn Hákon has been around for years, so one thing mastermind Ólafur Josephsson has in his arsenal is experience. He knows how to put together an album because he’s done six of them already and you can tell when you listen to Sanitas that each song weaves into the next like a tightly-knitted sock (the thick wooly kind).

The record sounds like a road trip—I know that’s a strange statement but just go with me on this. A road trip, that’s where this album belongs. In your car, on a long drive.

When I listen to it, I see an odd collection of nomads sitting in a beat-up 20-year-old brown Volvo driving through the country. A blonde head sticks out the back window and the wind makes her hair dance.

Let’s make this clear: It’s not stuck-in-traffic music, it’s not getting-it-on-in-the-backseat music. This album requires forward momentum and clear roads. You might think this sounds like an effort but the album deserves to be appreciated in these conditions.

Sanitas is rockier than Stafraenn Hákon’s previous records, which have been a little more ambient guitar-electronica, but it works. There’s a very consistent ‘core’ to Icelandic music overall that Stafraenn Hákon has whether they realizes it or not.

This could be because the entire Icelandic music scene is composed of like 12 people that rotate bands daily but actually it could be this common Icelandic influence with its occasional dark distorted electronic noise and the ambience of a volatile nature.

Sanitas is less obvious than that, though, there is an influence of what makes Icelandic music so compelling and then it’s elevated through collaborations with Samuel White to name one contributor among many.

What I like about Sanitas is the narration. Even the lyric-less intro “Minning um Deig” (“A Memory of You”) is telling you a story that you almost know even if you haven’t been told what the memory entails. Another tender gem was “Bright”.

That being said this isn’t a strictly musical album, there are definitely lyrics to be heard, but I feel like Sanitas lets the music take center stage with rich lo-fi post-rock instrumental intervals filled with trumpets and rich acoustics.

The only real disappointment to me might actually be a big crowd pleaser. “Provisional Meat” (Stafraenn Hákon have some surreal song titles—you’ve been warned) which started off a little Mogwai but then in the verse sounded like a Foo Fighters ballad caught me a little off guard.

My big favorite of the album was “Val Kilmer” which was refreshingly grandiose, tainted with a sense of doom that wasn’t overbearing or depressing but rather secretly exciting.

The whole album ‘fits’. There isn’t one song that doesn’t cohesively connect with the others in some way but at the same time no one song sounds the same. Which is why it’s like a road trip.

Fluid and seamless like a stretch of highway and all the while some parts, like the people, stay the same but you’re never in the same place.

And much like a road trip, it isn’t where you end up that matters. It’s the journey that counts and Sanitas is one ride worth sticking your thumb out for.

4/5
Nanna Árnadóttir – nanna.arnadottir@gmail.com

 

NORMAN RECORDS
I’m not sure if I’ve heard Stafraenn Hakon before. Stafraenn Hakon isn’t a man’s name but he is a man and I’m going to describe what he sounds like for other people to read and hopefully feel empowered by. It’s kind of a weird mix of post-rock epicness applied to a lo-fi bedroom singer-songwriter and topped off with a Sigur Ros-y ‘ambient indie’ sort of production style. And it’s pretty poppy too! I’m not totally digging the overall feel personally but it’s easy to see why people are into him, it’s high quality stuff. During the second track I keep thinking he’s going to go into one of the verses from ‘Stay Together’ by Suede, which seems odd, but it’s probably not as odd as the riff on the cover of Phil Collins’s ‘No Jacket Required’ that’s printed on one side of the pleasing tip-on double gatefold sleeve.
8/10 – BRETT

 

GRAPEVINE
There was a point somewhere about five years ago when post-rock went from still being something, kinda, to becoming full-on cock-rock that overcompensating dudebros could justifiably cry over. Probably due to the fact that the super emotionally-charged song structures are played on really, really loud guitars. Then football movies oversaturated their soundtracks with Explosions In The Sky and it all went bust. Thanks a buttload, Friday Night Lights!
Now it doesn’t seem like it‘s been quite long enough for the genre to make a full-on comeback, but Strafrænn Hákon’s latest album does make a worthwhile effort to launch it back onto the runway.
Everything else I’ve heard this guy do has been really experimental, ambient, weird noise stuff that I REALLY loved, so hearing him go all melodic and lyrical kind of took me by surprise, but it’s not bad at all. I didn’t really lose my shit either though. It doesn’t really have a consistent flow of energy from start to finish, albeit some solid songwriting. The stand-out track here is definitely ‘Val Kilmer’, which is about as intense and scary as the actor himself was in Top Gun.
Words by  – Published July 19, 2010

ADEQUACY.NET
You ever try to picture the changing weather with some kind of sound? You know how bands like Wilco just sound that much better during the fall sort of thing. The coldness of winter can also bring upon trademark sounds and who knows, maybe it’s the cover image or even just the chillingly dark introduction butStafraenn Hakon’s sixth album, Sanitas brings upon images of white mountains and snow-covered pine trees. And even when it comes in the form of a free-forming song that deploys riff after riff of squelching pumps or through a layered slow-burner, there is plenty to dig into here.

As the mastermind behind Hakon, Ólafur Josephsson, takes over with a voice that is both easily discernible and very much personal. There isn’t much on the album requiring a challenging voice but whatever the case may be, his voice is always surrounded by supportive music that always compliments and never over powers. Even as the light begins to melt away some snow, the album’s identity is definitely one of overcoming and progress. The music is an easy get-away and from the instant you put it on, you’ll want to nestle away with it, all the way until the very end.

And although this would be something labeled as some kind of post-rock, or as they like to call it, power-ambient, there isn’t anything raucously upfront about Sanitas. Instead, there is a calming strength in both the music’s expression and delivery. Never bolstering itself too much, it’s pushed to the front by gifted compositions and music that swells with skillful progressions. Even when everything is being pushed to the sides of the windows and ready to crack through the glass, there is a firm control and it’s always at a steady rate. It ends up being one of the album’s glowing highlights because it allows the entryway into smooth, densely layered but tranquil music with such fluidity. Josephsson’s voice alone is enough to soothe you but joined at hip with music as peacefully buoyant as this makes for an understated but excellent, combination.

“Bright” is a shining ray of hope in an otherwise, bleak and desolate album. And still, although the title shouts for a chance to break away, the music is tapered with a melodic piano line that is carried on top of swirling strings. It’s all done by way of a very much capered and flourishing, substantially clear amount of drive. Sanitas flows like some kind of frozen river that changes with the weather – breaking through in the spring, tightly closed during the winter and so on – it’s a back and forth ride that is actually, very well done. Such instances of rolling rock come towards the end with “Temporality” and “Provisional Meat,” where each song features angular guitar riffs and pounding drums; in other words, a sharp contrast from the earlier sounds but still, very much aligned.

But like those two erstwhile songs, the album’s overall sound comes shining through on the album’s last two songs. Where one is shoegaze influenced (“You Have to Let Me Borrow This!”) and the other is a gentle, somber goodbye (“The Jerker,”) they each go hand-in-hand as if it is all one sweeping seamless transition. And so it is, like the weather that continually moves, Sanitas is a majestic piece of music that will surely tide you over for the winter, whenever you need it and if called upon, will be there for many other moments of winning joy.

WONDERING SOUND
The sixth album by Icelandic duo Stafraenn Hakon finds the band toning down its electronic eeriness in favor of dreamy, melody-driven pop, complete with spacey vocals. The band refers to this moody but accessible sound as “power ambient,” which may sound a tad paradoxical: check out the song “Second to None” to see what it’s all about. And in case this all sounds a touch too serious, rest assured that that band has a healthy sense of humor. The name of the song with the doomy metal vibe? “Val Kilmer.”

MAGMAL BLOG
Its taken me a little while to get around to this post after first coming across Stafrænn Hákon as part of the ever excellent KEXP podcast series (in this case vol 221 of Music That Matters showcasing mainly Icelandic bands playing the Airwaves Festival in Iceland). For such a small place Iceland certainly punches above its weight in quality music. Of course Sigur Ros come to mind but so do the delicious Aniima (posted elsewhere on this blog) and the many bands on the KEXP podcast. But whilst it may be possible, or merely tempting, to identify some common traits, in truth  there seems to be a remarkable diversity and variety (tautology?) to that islands contemporary musical output.

I won’t waste space and effort covering the bands biog when there is an excellent and extensive one on their web site and repeated in sundry other places. Their web site streams this latest album, Sanitas, but it can also be bought, and delivered quickly, from their label. To hear a bit of live material KEXP have sessions on their web site as well, worth running along to in my opinion.

Despite the novelty of the band for me, there is something deeply familiar and comfortable about them, and that’s not intended as an insult in the slightest. Sanitas is apparently their sixth album and if rumour is right then this is continuation of a musical shift for them away from an electronica bent towards more mainstream rock sounds.

Be that as it may there is more than a little euphoria in the sounds to me, an unexpected but welcome combination of catchy tunes (how seventies does that sound?) but with big powerful sounds, songs that rather eat their way into the memory. At times it does seem an odd mix – occasionally vocals sounding a bit Badly Drawn Boy on tracks like Ratio 8:3 and then great squashy guitars sounds in a post rocky sort of way for Val Kilmer and the like.

Its an album I find myself coming back to again and again, almost comforting. Someone said in a review somewhere that its a band that wouldn’t frighten your parents (although much depends on your parents I suspect) and I guess that might be so, but it doesn’t make the music bland or safe, its much more seductive and enticing than that, it has an enveloping, siren quality that draws you in and keeps you.

All very fine stuff indeed but I have to say the artwork is decidedly odd…the slightly spooky doll photo on the front and a frankly hideous copy of Phil Collins from No Jacket Required on an inside fold. I have no idea what the cover is about and I don’t much care, the music is great.

EXCLAIM.CA
Considering Stafrænn Hákon also hail from Iceland, it would be incredibly easy to make the almost inevitable Sigur Rós comparisons because of the post-rock tendencies they’ve demonstrated in the past. But Sanitas is a much more complicated album than that, pulling the band in all kinds of interesting new directions. It most likely has something to do with the fact that the band have evolved from the solo project of “lafur Josephsson to a close collaboration with Samuel White, although there are other musicians along for the ride. That means the lo-fi days are long gone and there is a level of polish and a less complicated take on rock music that’s more organic than electronic. The album uses a wide canvas to paint wonderfully atmospheric pictures; the band call it “power ambient,” but the downbeat, meandering songs also bring in elements from shoegazing, accessible pop and even the aforementioned post-rock. Using three different guest vocalists does mean that the album sounds somewhat disjointed, with the deep tones of Minro Eggersman proving to be the most rewarding. The ironic thing is that the quiet instrumental tracks that broughtStafrænn Hákon to where they are today are the least successful element ofSanitas. Josephsson and company have outgrown even the label they attach to their music and this new path is a much more intriguing one, making them the most interesting band from Iceland at the moment.