Iceland Airwaves 2016 Live Review (11/3) – Nico Muhly, Julia Holter, Ljóðfæri

Nico Muhly


It was a big day for the Bedroom Community label. They celebrated their 10-year anniversary with a series of performances by bands on the label at Harpa’s beautiful Eldborg theater. The second of this series was Nico Muhly conducting a choir and the Crash Ensemble. The choir stood at the top of the concert hall above the orchestra, illuminated by warm blue lights.

It was a somewhat rocky, but admirable performance. Syncopation between the left and right singers never quite lined up and a gripping tonal resonance was never quite reached, but the music was interesting and the performance was genuine and enjoyable. Halfway through the piece, a surprise violin part entered, a welcome melody in the mix. Soon after, a light drum part followed. The piece had reached it’s stride with all parts in, a pretty choral tune filled with soothing syncopated chords, captivating countermelody. Though not the most convincing performance, Muhly conducted a choir of enjoyable, interesting, and intricate sounds.

Julia Holter


Julia Holter took the stage of the Reykjavík Art Museum in a quintet of misfits. The scruffy middle-aged drummer, the grey-haired upright bassist, an (admirably) nerdy violinist and a saxophonist stood beside Holter for a show full of oddball indie pop.

The set was full of songs from her latest record, Have You In My Wilderness, an album notable for its experimental orchestration and intimate arrangements. This intimacy remained regardless of the heavier live performance of the songs. The repetitive, dark outro of “Silhouette” pressed through the concert hall as Holter’s voice bellowed over the band. The smooth, tumbling progression of “Feel You” was delicate, but heavy and emotive.

This is a band that can handle playing soft songs with such energy. Holter’s background as a CalArts music graduate is clear in her music, and her band was chosen thoughtfully. They know when to hold off, and they know just when to let loose for a jam. Each musician knows just what parts fit the song best. They work together almost like a jazz combo. Holter takes the lead, but the band takes turns with the melody as bass parts or drum hits will often stand out in the texture. Holter’s performance is captivating and intricate. She plays indie pop on the farthest outskirts of the genre as experimentation is always at the forefront in her sound.



Ljóðfæri look like the father-son duo they are. Halldór Eldjárn, the son, sat behind a laptop, an array of percussion instruments and keyboards. He wore a black sweater and his hair in a bun as he created reflective, melancholy soundscapes. Þórarinn Eldjárn, the father, read over them. Standing in a formal suit, proper haircut, and a scholar’s glasses, Þórarinn was thoughtful in his delivery. He let each line sit with reverb on his voice. He’d finish a poem, stand back, and watch his son layer sounds and transition to the next piece.

Halldór’s music was true sound art. His keyboard tones were quiet and soothing over rhythms just clear enough to notice. The sounds were panned left and right and a speaker in back completed the surround sound in Harpa Kaldalón. He’d pick up a shaker for a moment and set it back down for the next thing. He looped the typing of a keyboard and the hangup of a telephone. His performance was full of patience and subtlety, and his father channeled this and delivered.

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