Grapevine Airwaves 2011

October 16, 2011

The Night of the Meh.

Ólafur Arnalds at Harpa by Skari

Music Overview

The drummer from Lockerbie is wearing a Ramones t-shirt. Explain to me how that makes sense. Lockerbie play the most boring, predictable, hackneyed post-rock imaginable, and yet, there’s the drummer. Wearing a fucking Ramones shirt. What the fuck.

I’ve got to hand it to drummers, though. I’ve always been amazed at their ability to hammer away to the blandest shit imaginable, and this dude is no exception. He’s rocking out, the band’s total lack of inspiration notwithstanding.

Lockerbie’s second song is about an amp catching fire. That’s it. That’s the whole song. The singer explains it to us beforehand, more than slightly amused at the anecdote, and I’ll relate it to you for the purpose of this article: while they were writing the song, presumably in their rehearsal space, the singer’s guitar amp caught fire, and they noticed the smell of smoke. Soon, they discovered the amp was on fire, and they decided to write a song about this.

There is nothing inherently disagreeable about this decision. Where Lockerbie fail is the decision to make it the refrain, the main theme of the song. I mean, I understand the Murakami-esque desire to poetically describe the excruciating minutiae of everyday occurrences, but when the chorus to your song is “I smell smoke, something’s on fire,” and the whole crowd knows exactly what the song’s about, you’ve spoiled it.

And the music. My God, the music. I’ve read bands like this are supposed to exist, but I’d always assumed it was foreign propaganda, perpetuated by European travel agents and people working for exchange programs. If ever there was a band that embodied everything that can go wrong when you start an Icelandic band, this is it.

And what’s with the sound? The bass is inaudible, the reverb a wash of high-end static and the snare and cymbals drowning out everything else. This would be understandable if we were at some dingy stale-beer-smell basement venue with a sixteen-year-old vomiting into a sink and girls getting fingered on the dance floor, but this is Harpa. Didn’t we spend millions on this thing? Isn’t it supposed to sound like God being fellated by Mother Teresa? And yet, here I stand, listening to a shitty band sounding shitty.

It sure is big, though. This is only the second time I’m inside Harpa, and I don’t think you really realize how huge it is unless you’re actually inside it. The fact that it’s slightly removed from everything else makes it seems smaller, somehow. The fact that this is only one of four concert halls in it, and yet it’s large enough to house Agent Fresco’s ego, is actually fairly mind-boggling. What a waste.

Veronica Falls are a bit more lively, playing surfy pop-punk (but the sound still sucks), with stripped-bare guitars twanging out simple, sure-fire melodies. The singing is a bit half-hearted, but maybe it’s supposed to sound like that. I also wonder if the drumming is supposed to speed up like that, or if the drummer just can’t control his tempo. Either way, it’s fine; it’s not like it’s ruining the music. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, the refrain to one of the songs keeps almost turning into the refrain from Don’t Fear The Reaper… not that there’s anything wrong with that.

When Ólafur Arnalds starts playing, all the lights go off. His sparse piano, coupled with delicate and minimal strings actually make for a nice atmosphere… until his retarded background projection starts playing. It’s silhouettes of a kid’s mobile slowly spinning, with the animal shapes hanging on it detaching themselves one by one and leaving, only to have them reattach themselves at the end. What kind of message is a human being sending out by having this sickeningly ham-handed and childish horseshit accompany his music? Is he some sort of idiot? Or does he think we are? I’d ask him, if I wasn’t so goddamn certain the answers will infuriate me even more than the questions.

In any case, the crowd loves it. The room is absolutely packed, more than it will be for the rest of the night, and every person in the room applauds like their life depends on it between songs.

Treefight For Sunlight play flowery guitar pop with a distinctly European twinge to it. Where Ólafur Arnalds played interesting music that was not terribly good, Treefight For Sunlight play good music that is not terribly interesting. The highlight of their set is undoubtedly the song where the drummer sings lead, a mournful melody that delivers more atmosphere than anything else played in this room tonight. And the drummer’s actually just a treat to watch in general, his rhythms somehow being playful and to-the-point at the same time. And he’s pretty handsome, too. I’m not gay at all.

Jesus, fuck off with your off-beat handclaps, drunk tourists.

Man, oh man, do I not get the hype around Of Monsters And Men. I understand it’s all the rage to be “anthemic” and “folky” and “wistful,” but so is wearing garishly coloured tights (which one member of OMAM is indeed wearing tonight), and people aren’t losing their shit over that. And moreover, why do you need nine people, four of them guitarists, to play this simplistic asspiss?

Okay, maybe that was too far. Maybe comparing a well-rehearsed and well-meaning young band to that special kind of diarrhoea you only get from moldy Earl Grey or over-spiced Thai food is a little harsh. But it doesn’t change the fact that OMAM’s songs sound like they were written by a vending machine.

I go to the bar one last time, and finish the money in my wallet. Okay, John Grant, you have the time it takes me to finish this beer to impress me.

Make no mistake: I admire the songwriting talent Grant possesses. Pretentious pop-culture references aside, the man writes a breakup song like no-one else alive, and his affable honesty between songs could charm the methane ice off a Kuiper belt object, but dude: have a separate wardrobe for your live shows. I understand you were raised in the Midwest, but that’s no excuse for wearing a polyester hoodie and a ski cap while playing a concert. I’m not saying a full-on Liberace is necessary, just… put on a dress shirt, or run a comb through your hair. Something. Sometimes less is not more.

That said, his show is pretty straightforward, and does not need to be any more complicated than it is. A grand piano, some playback and the occasional cheesy synth solo are all that is required. I mean, Jesus, look at the effort Lockerbie, Ólafur Arnalds and Of Monsters And Men went to, but without the benefit of a song you actually put some thought into writing, it all amounts to fuck all.

Still, it doesn’t amount to more than just “meh.” Nothing tonight has impressed me enough to reach a level of appreciation that’s more than just “meh.” I guess if that’s good enough for you, then this was a good show. Otherwise, “meh.”

About the Author

Sindri Eldon


  1. Some guy

    What the shit kind of review is this? What does a drummer’s t-shirt or a singer’s sweater have to do with anything? Listen to the fucking music, and put your own bitter opinions aside. The crowd’s reaction to John Grant alone should have told you that you are, plainly put, wrong.

  2. Binni

    Damn, just saw a guy also in a Ramones T-Shirt on friday. Ruined my whole weekend as well. No point in liking anything after that…just getting drunk and be bitter.

  3. siggi

    This has to be the worst review that I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s so stupid that I can’t even…

  4. Ragnar

    Rammstein? From Mannheim?

  5. Islendingurinn

    This review (if you can call it that) is just horrible.
    Wen people read this they are not thinking ohh this show must have bean awful, no the message you are giving is that your life sucks and so must every thing ells that you experience, so please from the bottom of my heart go into another profession.

  6. siggi

    where is the comment that I made yesterday? seriously, if you can’t take critics about your reviews, who are you to shit over people that are way more talented than you? guess it’s pretty bad to be such a complete and utter twat and horrible musician when your mother is Björk…

  7. sammála á svalbarðseyri

    helvíti flott grein, Það kemur þó vel í ljós hvað þér þykir skemmtilegt að vera vondur(a worthwhile pastime to be sure.)

  8. Harry Knuckles

    Good review, Sindri.

    • ingi

      Constructive criticism is unfortunately something that too many self claimed critics don’t know a thing about.

      • as do many responders to self claimed critics. Oh well, i guess it’s the new way of music literature in a web 2.0 world right now. Something that ideally should be akin to a heated but thoughtful discussion, but often resembles a noisy bartertown that barely begins to move past “yo mamma” comments on all sides. we’ll get there eventually. Perhaps Airwaves 2016.

        • And there actually was a “yo momma!” comment! Wonderful times!

        • ingi

          Critics that cant handle being criticised themselves…hahaha I’m laughing my ass off here. Have fun kids, you are so cute.

          • okay…..

            I’m sure you can show me where on here it shows that we can’t handle the criticism. I thought we were starting to have the beginnings of a decent talk about how people should be able to respond to each other about what agree and disagree, on reviews or other parts in general. Are we getting out wires crossed here? You do know that the stuff about “yo mamma” wasn’t a really directed at you. It was more of a general statement of internet ocmments in general.

  9. some fag

    rockin’ review!

  10. Hrafn Hrólfsson

    Well written funny and entertaining. More please.

  11. Egill

    hey Bob, I’ll give heated discussion a shot 🙂 also in response to your first post.

    I don’t really have a problem with Sindri writing negative reviews. My gripe is that his reviews are absolutely horrible. Cruel, spiteful, mind-numbingly pretentious, self-absorbed drivel with absolutely no redeeming qualities (seriously, how narcissistic do you have to be to turn an airwaves review into self-indulgent science-fiction tripe?)

    Don’t get me wrong, negative reviews are fine. A shit concert is a shit concert. But if you’re gonna be negative, at least show the artist a minimal amount of respect. Being funny about it in the process is fine. As the editor wrote himself after the festival: “What is important is that someone took you seriously enough to watch your whole set and take notes during it and think about it for several hours and then write down how they felt about the whole thing. You are being taken seriously.”
    Very well put, and this is true for most of the reviewers – I’ve been impressed with the Grapevine’s coverage of the festival, which gets better every year. Sindri, however, somehow manages to turn every review into a self-satisfied, pompous celebration of his incredible wit and his oh so profound cultural awareness. Spending half of the Lockerbie review complaining about the drummers Ramones T-shirt? Really? Referring to OMAM’s music as “simplistic asspiss”? Accusing bands of playing “without the benefit of a song [they] put some thought into writing”? Wondering whether Ólafur Arnalds is “some sort of idiot”? Whining about John Grants clothes? How about writing about the fucking music?

    Bottom line, his reviews are embarrassing. Sure, they’re funny in the Simon Cowell, laughing-at-other-peoples-misfortune sort of way, but if that’s seriously what the Reykjavik Grapevine is going for, I’m a little bit disappointed..

  12. I am not one for responding to most of your comments regarding Sindri’s style and intent, but I will say that “Ramones T-Shirt” can be read as metaphor for other things, The Ramones stood for some particular something and aligning oneself with them through wearing a t-shirt could mean you subscribe to a certain attitude or philosophy, which Sindri apparently finds lacking in Lockerbie’s music (and thus I imagine he takes his wearing of the t-shirt to be ‘contrived’ (anyone who’s performed live can tell you musicians put thought into what they wear on stage) and that this speaks a deeper truth about the music.

    That said, you would have to ask Sindri. This is what I read into it at least. That’s not saying I necessarily agree with his opinion (I have not been fortunate enough to witness Lockerbie in concert yet), but I think it is a valid and argued for opinion that is evident to anyone who has any sort of cultural awareness or vocabulary.

    As for his skills and performance, it is interesting to note that while we have had many, many hits on this website over the past week, the two top stories are Sindri’s reviews. So this must mean they resonate with people, or that people like to reflect their own views upon it. This is good, this is discourse and it must be every writer’s dream to be read, paid attention to and engaged with (although I have a hard time being tolerant towards people that are complaining about him being rude while bringing his family life and personality into the mix (bringing his music into it is fine, that is published, public work). “Be the change you want”).

    Since you wonder what we are ‘going for’ in publishing Sindri’s reviews, I can tell you that I think he is a great writer, with a unique voice and some very interesting thoughts on life, the universe and everything. I often do not agree with him, but he always engages me and prods me to think in ways that a million half-assed “frábær frumraun” reviews in our local media do not.

    But again, I applaud your contribution to this conversation, as it is reserved, mannered and thoughtful. This is the sort of conversation we should strive for.


    Haukur SM

  13. Sindri Eldon

    Hey, you guys. Just wanted to drop by and say that this discussion is pretty interesting, and it’s nice to see people talking about my writing. Egill has a couple of good points that I’ll certainly take note of when I write my next review. I also just wanted to point out that I thought most of the bands that night (except one of them) were actually okay, or, you know, meh. I just didn’t spend all that much time talking about the bands’ music because it’s a concert review, not an album review. I know a lot of writers do that, and I actually do it too (in fact, there’s a fair chunk of that in this very review), but I just don’t think it should be the focus of the review. The other reason my reviews have become a bit more… unorthodox lately is because I’m trying to experiment with the form. I can see how this might be construed as pretentious (what isn’t, these days?) or disrespectful to the bands, but we’re not doing this for the bands, are we? Or at least I’m not…

    …whoa. This answer went on way longer than I intended it to, and I’m gonna go watch some more Babylon 5 now. I think I could probably finish Season 3 tonight if I put my mind to it, but I do kind of wish they’d just kill off Dr. Franklin. If there’s too much more of him in these next few episodes I’m probably just going to go to bed.

  14. Egill

    Thanks for the replies, both of you. Some good points.

    1. Fair enough, I get what you’re saying (though it touches on another topic: The over-emphasis in music criticism on the cultural/political dimension as opposed to the music itself. But then again, writing about music is hard enough without those aspects being taken away.. :))

    2. It’s a valid point, but it brings up another question. I think that one of the reasons Sindri’s reviews gets so many hits is the same reason show like American Idol are such a huge success and why people enjoy reading news about Lindsay Lohan. For some odd reason people enjoy seeing other people torn down (to quote Homer Simpson: “It’s funny because it’s not me”). The more brutal, the better. Whether that’s an impulse that the media should cater to is debatable, and it’s down to the newspaper/TV-station/whatever whether they want to make some moral stand or not. Sindri’s reviews are well written and can be quite funny (I retract my statement earlier that they have no redeeming qualities!) but they’re also often mean-spirited, which you could say “resonates” with people… the question is whether that’s really a good thing? Perhaps his next challenge could be to write an engaging, negative review without being a dick about it? 😉

    But as I said before, negative reviews are part and parcel of being a musician, and if you can’t handle them, don’t let your music out of the bedroom. But I think artists should always at least be respected for what they’re doing. Even if the band you’re watching sucks, at least they’re making the effort.

    • Hey,

      I do not believe there is an over emphasis on the cultural/political dimension in music writing; in fact I believe there is an alarming lack of it. I do not know what sort of meaning you place on music or in what context you engage with it, but I think that at its best, music can serve as a gauge on a culture and the society it springs from (as does all cultural output; writing, poetry, art, dance, etc etc). It can at its best provide a very important, interesting and thought out commentary on the times and environment we all face, both as listeners and as musicians or artists. I believe it should be taken seriously, while being held responsible and accountable.

      No object exists within a void.

      (to name an easy example (because it is right above); with Sindri’s *ehrm* ‘amusingly’ worded thoughts on Ólafur Arnalds’ video that accompanied his performance (neither of which I witnessed or can comment about) I believe he was asking the question: “What is he trying to say? What is his message? Why is it relevant to me or the people around me?” I think these are important questions to ask of any artist or work of art (and music is a form of art). I always imagine that being taken seriously and even being questioned would be an honour to anyone who takes him- or herself seriously and believes in what he or she is doing or saying).

      The line between mean-spirited, and ‘being a dick about it’, and being brutally honest (or just somewhat accurately and truthfully describing ones experience and outlook) is indeed a thin one. In my engaging with my culture and community, I prefer to engage with things that are said in an honest and open manner–and that are worded in an artful or amusing way (and with some effort). Lies do not amuse me or strike me as particularly useful for anyone.

      Lastly, the only times I feel actively offended by music is when its writers and performers are not making an effort (or not enough of an effort), because it is lazy and disrespectful to themselves and to their would-be audiences. Unfortunately, this happens in the Icelandic music scene as elsewhere; very fortunately (in my personal opinion) it happens very, very rarely. I am and have been and will remain thrilled to observe and ingest all of the great musc being made and performed on this island.

  15. Egill

    Hmm.. I do agree with you to an extent. When it comes to the icelandic mainstream media in particular I think you’re spot on. I guess what I’m trying to say that artists and reviewers in the left/radical/whatever-you-want-to-call-it media tend to be on the other end of the spectrum: overly-concious of the social aspect, to the point where it overshadows everything else. A huge part of the reviews I read focus on the musicians clothes, attitude, what they stand for etc. rather than whether the concert was fun or if tunes are actually any good. But if that’s the trend, it would be nice if the journalists were more concious of their own biases, without being “neutral”.

    A case in point being the review of Jón Jónssons show on thursday.
    Now, I think his music is god-awful, and seeing him in the context of Iceland Airwaves was just bizarre. But he’s a surprisingly capable guitarist/singer and he does the whole Jamie Cullum thing very well.
    But when the reviewer calls him “artistically bereft”, it’s a cultural/political statement rather than an aesthetic one, and a very arrogant one at that. Despite what the article posted above says, that’s about as elitist as you can get. The honest thing would be to say “his music was cringeworthy, and I have no idea what the hell he was doing at Iceland Airwaves, but listen to him if you like Jack Johnson or other soft-rock crap.”

    But as you say, nothing exists within a void, and art at it’s core is almost always political, so music appreciation without considering those factors makes no sense (except maybe when you’re a kid. I miss the days of being 11 years old, completely oblivious to the cultural connotations of music and just randomly going through my parents’ collection and listening to whatever the hell I liked.)

    As for your final point, I completely agree.

  16. I read “artistically bereft” to mean “devoid of or lacking in imagination and spirit.” And to a lot of people, myself included, imagination and spirit are very large factors when it comes to appreciating music. John Rogers’ name was under that review, it is clearly his opinion and it should be equally clear to anyone reading that he is not interested in the works of Jack Johnson (or Jón Jónsson) – and thus, if they’re into that kind of thing then they will know that John Rogers’ outlook does not mesh with theirs.

    That’s not elitist, that’s honest and upfront and transparent.

  17. As for being conscious about ones biases, and neutral; there is no ‘neutral’ when it comes to evaluating anything as far as I am concerned. Everyone is biased. It is in my view best if these biases are displayed prominently and not pussyfooted around, so people can compare them with their own and decide where they stand.

    I wrote something about that in a Mínus review from 2006, back when I still reviewed music:

    “Feminist philosopher Sandra Harding is perhaps best known for her critique on Western science’s claim to complete and utter objectivity and “universal reason”. According to her, true math-like objectivity can never be had, as any- and everyone’s view of the world is ultimately dependent (and thus tainted) by his/her viewpoint. Unlike many so-called post-modernists, however, Harding’s answer to this conundrum isn’t that we should abandon our search for objective truth; although it may indeed be unattainable, some forms of discourse are clearly more objective than others. Her solution comes in the form of a method she calls ‘Standpoint-epistemology’ and entails that those engaging in any form of discourse examine and divulge factors in their values and viewpoint that may affect the conclusions they draw. She claims that by embracing these ‘stronger standards’ for objectivity, we’re that much closer to drawing truthful and unoppressive conclusions about our subjects.”


    Greatly enjoying this exchange.

  18. Egill

    Completely agree, that’s why I said it’s important to be concious of your own bias *without* being “neutral” :).

    Claiming neutrality or “universal truth” can, as history has shown, be very dangerous, and that’s exactly why it’s important to be aware of your own biases (I’m talking about art and observing stuff for pleasure. Ethics for example are a far more difficult subject). At the same time reviewers shouldn’t have to qualify every sentence with “it’s just my opinion, i’m an indie hipster”, and you’re right, it’s very obviously his opinion. The reason it irked me is because it’s the sort of discourse that’s been used as a weapon in music-politics for decades. In the early 20th century it was “folk music isn’t art, it’s imitation that “real” artists should be allowed to use in their works”. In the 60s and 70s it was “rock music is artistically bereft noise” etc. etc. (the history of icelandic music-interest groups, STEF, TÍ and FTT, is actually very interesting in this respect. The old composers, Jón Leifs & his gang vs. the new generation that appeared in the 70s).
    At it’s core, art is about as relative as it gets, and so is what “spirit and imagination” entails. In my humble opinion, people should embrace their own viewpoint, but at the same time be aware of their own limitations.

    Nice quote btw. (and good review. Despite me and my moral high-horse, “satanic paedophile robots in hell” made me laugh out loud.) Standpoint-epistemology sounds similar to Nietzsches perspectivism (
    Basically it’s the whole absolute truth/relative truth conundrum that’s still the root of most of our problems. I’ve struggled with it for a long time, and as cheesy as it sounds, my solution has really just been to stop worrying, be compassionate, let people do what they want in peace and spread the love 🙂

  19. Damn, i go away for a while and THIS happens!

    Well, there’s really not much i can add to this as all the points I was gong to cover have pretty much been done over. Carry on…

  20. hahaha! Great Job!

    i’d pay for a Sindri critique on The Zuckakis Mondeyano Project

    i’ve been critiqued by Sindri once, whilst in my old band… i liked the review immensely but other members of the band had some sulkiness to deal with. maybe it’s time to read that again :þ

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