Album of the Year 2014 – Number 3

It’s getting serious now as I enter the final three albums in my 2014 top 20 countdown, the bronze, silver and gold positions. Needless to say that all three bands coming up have released fabulous albums, worthy of any accolade coming their way.

Remember, every post in this series can be accessed at the bottom of this post along with the full series’ from 2012 and 2013.

But enough of that, here’s Number 3 for 2014…

Solstafir-Otta-2014Sólstafir
‘Otta’
Season Of Mist

Iceland. In my opinion, one of the most magical countries on Earth and, given the size of the population, a musical powerhouse. When my brother passed away in 2008, my family and I started a search for a perfect resting place for some of his ashes. His love of rugged landscapes, mountains and the wilderness led us inexorably towards Iceland. None of us had visited before and when we arrived in 2009, we were not prepared for the impact it would have on us. Breathtakingly beautiful, it felt right and there was no hesitation in leaving part of him behind in a tranquil spot near the Gulfoss waterfall in the shadow of mountains and glaciers.

My parents and I returned to Iceland earlier this year to revisit my brother and once again, the island worked its magic. We were only there for three full days but by the end, I simply did not want to leave. I would move there tomorrow given half a chance.

You may be wondering why I’m saying all this on a post about my third favourite album of the year. The answer is that it provides some much needed context so that when I say that ‘Otta’ feels to me like the sound of Iceland, the importance of this statement can be fully understood.

Very few bands manage to convey a sense of their surroundings so eloquently but by heavens, with ‘Otta’, Icelanders Sólstafir are one such band. The quartet have come a long way from their more extreme days and the post-rock inspired ‘Otta’ has to be considered to be their masterpiece to date.

Picture by: Guðný Lára Thorarensen

Picture by: Guðný Lára Thorarensen

We already knew it but music does not have to be technically complex in order to be engaging, enjoyable and full of depth. Compositionally, this is not the most overtly complicated music from a technical standpoint but regardless of this, to write music as good as this is not easy. On this record, Sólstafir concentrate on creating intense atmospheres and painting epic vistas in the minds of the listener, many of which bring me close to tears. As I allow this very organic and natural-sounding album wash over me and seep into my psyche, I ache to return to the homeland of Sólstafir, to once again experience the landscape which has been reimagined so beautifully in musical form. The striking artwork will give you a clue and more of an understanding of what to expect.

Unlike Sólstafir’s previous album, ‘Svartir Sandar’, ‘Otta’ is contained on just the one disc. As such, it’s a more honed affair. Admittedly the eight tracks still last for nearly an hour collectively with a good half of the compositions reaching well beyond the seven-minute mark. Importantly though, the perception as you listen is of a much shorter album, so effectively does it pull you in and delight you at every majestic turn.

The album opens in impressive fashion with ‘Lagnaetti’ and maintains the quality until the last note dies away. The opener begins in quiet, relatively sombre fashion but builds throughout its length into something more urgent and powerful. However, all the while it is held together by a really engaging melody line.

What transports this album into the higher echelons is the melodic sensibility at play here. The title track begins with an ambient feel but once again builds around a central melody which is stunningly beautiful but also rather unique given that it is brought to life by a banjo.

In the centre of the album sit the more truncated and, arguably, more immediately accessible trio of ‘Rismal’, ‘Dagmal’ and ‘Middegi’, each of which could teach a thing or two to sections of the post-rock fraternity about how to write material that is both catchy and full of integrity whilst still managing to once again convey an impressive soundscape in the process.

‘Non’, ‘Midaftann’ and ‘Nattmal’ complete the album in equally spectacular fashion. ‘Nattmal’ is the longest and most challenging composition on ‘Otta’ whilst ‘Midaftann’ is simply gorgeous, dominated as it is by a lone piano, thereby lending the track a more introspective feel.

I think the opening couple of paragraphs will help you understand just how much I love ‘Otta’ and, more importantly, why. However, this album from Sólstafir is just so brilliant and engaging that anyone who likes powerful guitar-based music should derive an awful lot of satisfaction from listening to it. It is an honest, vibrant and poignant album that I have taken it to my heart. And I bet I’m not the only one. Sensational.

Check out the other posts in this series:

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 4
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 5
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 6
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 7
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 8
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 9
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 13
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20

And if you’re interested, my similar countdowns from previous years can be accessed here:

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013

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3 thoughts on “Album of the Year 2014 – Number 3

  1. lunatique77

    Interesting. My own brother passed away in 2007. In 2012 I went to Iceland and there, I was finally able to let go of all the pain. Sólstafir’s “Svartir Sandar” was with me back then. I have seen the band 4 times since then – yesterday being number 4! “Ótta” has the potential to be on my life soundtrack. Love the album and the guys!
    Lunatique

    Reply

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