Stafrænn Hakon may sound like a bizarrely named solo artist but in reality they are an alternative music collective from Iceland, masterminded by Olafur Josephsson, and Gummi is their fourth LP.
The music on Gummi sounds like what would happen if you took the nocturnal meditations of The Album Leaf, mixed them with the artistic atmospherics of Sigur Ros and added a dash of the introspective glitch-pop of Efterklang. But while it sounds like a winning combination and an intriguing mix, and it mostly is, the palatial and open arrangements occasionally get bogged down with a few bars of sub-par vocals. But not so much that a few additional spins can’t render them tolerable and the music quite pleasurable.
Stafraenn Hakon’s songs are probably a bit more concrete and a bit less nebulous than Sigur Ros’ but they follow the same post-rock blueprint of slowly building from softer, subtler tones to louder, more dynamic rhythms. The gently rolling drums, periodic waves of placid keyboards and bright, reverb-drenched guitar leads do not so much erupt with bursting melodies, but rather come to a slow boil with an airy and dreamy ambience, thanks to a multitude of instruments (cello, glockenspiel, harp, mandolin, melodica, banjo, bells and such) chiming and tinkling at various periods throughout. The impressionistic compositions usually don’t stray too far into the nebulous atmosphere but stay grounded with drum programming, glitchy beats, sporadic snare snaps and a few organic sounds providing some rhythm to the warm melodies.
The brilliant instrumental opener “Járn” and the exquisite “Glussi” lean more towards The Album Leaf, while the aesthetically pleasing and more atmospheric “Svefn” and “P-Rofi”, two of the six vocal tracks, borrow more elements from Sigur Rós, but are just as dazzling. “Kvef” blends in the Efterklang influence while the other tracks successfully merge all three into a distinctly Stafraenn Hakon sound but are not as mellifluous and dip into ambient territory without the sweeping arrangements employed on the other tracks.
The fade-in and fade-out pattern and extended duration of a few tracks, along with a couple vocal regressions, create some tedious moments, but ultimately Gummi is a welcome musical diversion and Stafrænn Hakon have found a nice niche in the artistic and atmospheric post-rock world.