If you cast a glance at our events calendar of February, there’s one name that undoubtly dominates the schedule: Svavar Knútur. During his European tour to promote his latest album “Brot” (which you could translate as “breaking”) which he released last year, he will perform in 14 cities all around Germany. So it’s on the dice that we have a closer look at this artist. Here in Germany, most people might not be that familiar with Svavar, though he has gained international attention especially with his band Hraun. Whereas at home in Iceland, it’s the exact opposite. Up there, this songwriter is not just widely known for his folk-pop, characterized by guitars, ukuleles and his warm and soft voice. He is also politically and socially very active as you probably already noticed while reading our latest coverage about the possible shutdown of Gaukurinn music club in Reykjavík. But back to topic.
Svavar’s earlier work, of which he has released three albums and one EP, is largely really calm and contemplative. And if you are used to his songs from records like “Ölduslóð ” you might be a little surprised by the full band sound that welcomes you right from the start on his latest record. The opener “Brot” starts with a marvellous guitar riff and a few moments after, Svavar starts to sing in his mother tongue. About the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations of life and restlessness: “I have walked a crooked path, all my life / and plans lie askew”. It’s a metaphor for life. A long journey, most of the time not really easy going and often enough with uncertain prospects: “Will I today get maybe a short peace? / Will I find in this place temporary sanctuary, / just for a moment?” A journey on a small, storm-tossed but equally tough and resilient boat, like the one embellishing the cover. But against all odds, there’s also always hope to reach the saving shore one day: “Still, the thought that time’s hail will ease / I count to my life’s salvation”. And correspondingly, the whole song doesn’t sound devastating or hopelessly at all, except of the middle part where a menacing darkness tries to creep in your ear. However, just to be banished right away by the encouraging and almost euphoric finish. “Brot” is splendid opener and my personal favourite, straightforward.
But Svavar also hasn’t forsworn his original style of simply guitar and vocals. Instead, he still masters it magnificently and songs like”The curtain”, a sad-sounding piece, wallowing in hazy memories of a bygone love are proof of it. Or the wonderful and deeply moving declaration of love which is “Little things”, a song especially worth of listening closely to the humorous lyrics. Ups and downs of feelings and moods are the red line of the album anyway, which as a whole feels like the journey of life sung about in its title song. However in the end, all uncertainties and crises are overcome and “Slow dance” sounds like the redeeming arrival at a safe harbour: “Come into the light / come into the light / welcome home / come into the light”.
Svavar is known to be a pleasant and lively storyteller at his live performances, a kind of bard. And while listening to his new record, you can very well imagine how both, relaxing and compelling, an evening with Svavar and his stories and songs might be in one of the small venues he will be playing. And that’s an imagination so convincing that I will not make the mistake to miss it. And you shouldn’t either.
photo © Zippo Zimmerman with friendly approval by Svavar Knútur