I’ve found myself listening to a lot of Icelandic music recently, in particular Sólstafir, who featured at number 7 in my Albums Of 2014 post, and Sigur Rós. I’ve also introduced some of my friends to these bands and their music and the first response I usually receive is: “Do you even know what it means?”
The simple answer is no. I don’t speak Icelandic and honestly, I have no idea what the lyrics translate as. But in a way I really don’t want to know. Not understanding the lyrics allows you to appreciate the actual music behind the song. I am captured only by the feel of the song and forced to ignore the lyrics and appreciate how the composition of the song makes me feel. It is an opportunity to listen to the melodies, the sounds, the tone of voice, the dynamics and choice of instrument and how it has all been put together in a way that tells it’s own story. All of this is too often hidden behind the lyrics of a song and the actual musical side of it is forgotten about or ignored. But what would a song be if the instruments had no depth or story to be told?
Of course the lyrics add a layer of meaning to the song but sometimes I feel this can distract the listener from the underlying meaning. By removing the lyrics you can get a feel of the mood of the song whether it’s through the bass or guitar melodies, or maybe even the drum beat which allows you to understand the song on a completely different level. Music is an abstract piece of art for the artists to express themselves whilst allowing the listeners to add their own meaning to the song. This is often forgotten and songs become solely about the lyrics and the meaning they hold.
So no, I don’t speak Icelandic and no, I won’t be rushing to Google Translate any time soon because for now I am perfectly happy to just listen, to discover the meaning of the songs myself and just appreciate the entire song as a whole. If this is something you haven’t tried, or you haven’t heard of Sólstafir, I encourage you to give them a chance. I cannot recommend this band to you enough, the music they create is some of the most beautiful I have heard. Check out Albums of 2014 for a short review on their latest album Ótta and give it a listen, you never know, you might just like them.