ATH Abroad: Secret Solstice Festival

solsticebannerAfter an 18-hour ocean crossing trip, followed by a brief power-nap, I finally found myself at the Secret Solstice Festival in Reykjavik, Iceland.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect as I was very unfamiliar with most of the artists on the lineup and I don’t speak a lick of Icelandic.  Of course what we worry about most never happens and I ended up being treated to a great festival experience that could rival most anything we can offer here stateside.  Click read more for words and fancy photos.

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Friday Top 5: Meditative Albums

Happy Birthday to a real, badass dude: the Buddha. Without getting into a religious discussion, I feel that some albums are better at relaxing the listener and in some ways engage them at a deeper level. In these cases, the music serves as a map to guide the listener along a journey of self-discovery. In our modern, hectic lives, consumed by outside distractions and never-ending suffering around every corner, few of us can truly turn within and for just a moment, think deeply. As soon as we turn on our favorite album or mix-tape from someone special, we are transported to a meaningful place; there in that moment, enjoying it for what it is. So, in honor of the birth of one of the most influential people to ever grace the earth, here’s a list of the top 5 meditative albums to help get you in a thoughtful mood and let the world around you melt away.

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Seabear – We Built A Fire

Rating: ★★★★ ·

It’s heating up around Austin with SXSW right around the bend and with spring weather here, wildflowers across the state spring to life.  Nevertheless, Seabear is coming through town to cool things down a little. Icelandic septet Seabear, led by soothing songster Sindri Már Sigfússon, is set to release their nature-infused sophomore album, We Built A Fire. Iceland is renowned for its otherworldly landscapes and ethereal musicians (i.e. Bjork and Sigur Ros), but this record hits a familiar chord closer to home.

The release is premium indie-folk and shows the “Icelandic Beck” at his whimsical, yet haunting best. Although based in Iceland, Seabear’s lyrics are all in English; which makes it a surprise that this year marks the band’s first trip through North America, starting with SXSW. Beginning as a lo-fi solo project for Sigfússon, Seabear has expanded to a full 7-member band with the emphasis on the collective creative process. Their first release, The Ghost That Carried Us Away, was a much more intimate release with delicate, orchestral arrangements containing many indie-folk gems. Similarly on their latest, there’s no shortage of them. This time around, mutual input in the writing process was the modus operandi and what materialized is an improved confidence in all the parts. This translates into a stronger sound and superior effort as a whole.

Sigfússon songwriting talents (whose last solo effort came under the moniker Sing Fang Bous) is in full bloom starting with the opener, ‘Lion Face Boy’. His voice is a force, both full and soft simultaneously, driving the tempo throughout the track and ultimately the extent of the record.  ‘Fire Dies Down’ is a more up-tempo and moving track, displaying the rest of the group’s expanded instrumental vocabulary.

The pseudo title track and first single ‘I’ll Build You A Fire’ is a stand out track with wonderful harmonies. On Sigfússon’s 2009 solo tour, he was joined by headliners and fellow Icelandic indie poppers múm, and it’s obvious that a little rubbed off. ‘Cold Summer’ begins with a poignant piano intro. Then the vocals and cello drift in and out like a summer breeze over an Icelandic meadow. The depth and soothing nature of his voice prove to once again be the driving force followed by the country influenced ‘Wooden Teeth’; which is one of the more joyful moments on the record. This country influence continues into ‘Leafmask’ with a guitar intro displaying true country roots, before Sigfússon slows things down and emerges with one of the more impressive vocal tracks on the album.  After ‘Softship’, the album loses a little momentum and becomes more introverted before the back and forth crescendos and decrescendos of ‘Warm Blood’.

Seabear brings the tempo back up for the final track ‘Wolfboy’, completing one of my favorite releases of the year. We Built A Fire is thought-provoking music while physically moving to boot, and we can only hope their tour is so successful they return with more dates for years to come. Amazingly, this time around Austin gets 4 (yes 4!) chances to see them. You will not want to miss at least one of these free sets:

March 17th @ Epoch Coffee (221 W North Loop) – 7:15pm

March 18th @ Scoot Inn (1308 E 4th st.) – 1pm

March 18th @ The Hideout (617 Congress Ave.) – 1am

March 20th @ Cafe Mundi (1704 E. 5th st.) – 2:45pm

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Seabear-03-Ill-Build-You-A-Fire.mp3]

Download: Seabear – I’ll Build You A Fire [MP3]