“A touch Arcade fire but more interesting, vocals are stunning, instrumentation is awesome. Joyous and gentle. Big colourful band to fall in love with. Soul, classical. Classoul.” – Huw Stephens, BBC Radio 1
Hjaltalín is an Icelandic group. Their music spawns many categories and is hard to categorize, but the term chamber-pop has been used quite frequently in that respect. The group was founded in 2004, when a handful of students decided to take part in a songwriting competition. After that, the group decided to continue and went through changes of line-up and various experiments with styles. A turning point came in the autumn of 2006 when the group was offered to give a performance at the main talk show of the Icelandic national television. Hjaltalín took in 4 new members and their blend of chamber pop was born aided by a violin, bassoon, clarinet and cello. The original members, who had persisted, the whole time, were Axel Haraldsson on drums, Guðmundur Óskar Guðmundsson on bass, Hjörtur Ingvi Jóhannsson on keyboards, Högni Egilsson, guitar and vocals. A gig at the Iceland Airwaves festival later that year introduced the female vocalist, Sigríður Thorlacius.
After the success of Goodbye July/Margt að ugga on Icelandic radio, the group went to the studio and recorded their debut album, Sleepdrunk Season. Its release in late 2007 sparked nationwide attention and the group acquired the best hope award at the Icelandic Music award ceremony, and Högni was chosen as the best songwriter. Hjaltalín got their first mega-hit in Iceland when they released a cover version of the song Þú komst við hjartað í mér, which had appeared on an album by local pop musician, Paul Oscar. The song became very popular and ended up as the most popular song of 2008 in Iceland.
At the same time, the group began to play abroad. The year of 2009 was largely spent on tours all around Europe, including Latidude and Roskilde festivals, and tours in the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. In the summer of 2009, the band began recording their second album, Terminal, which features 7 members of Hjaltalín, Axel, Guðmundur, Hjörtur, Högni, Rebekka (bassoon), Sigríður and Viktor (violin). The album features, amongst other things, a large orchestra, and expanded the sound of the group substantially. Terminal was an instant chart topper in Iceland and was chosen as the album of the year at the Icelandic music awards, and Sigríður was chosen as the singer of the year. In june 2010, Hjaltalín and the Icelandic Symphony orchestra played 3 sold out concerts in Reykjavík.
Early 2012 the band scored a documentary and Late 2012 saw the release of a full studio album, Enter 4. We take the liberty of quoting the Reykjavik Grapevine n the subject:
“But here’s the thing—since ‘Terminal,’ Hjaltalín seem to have gone away and worked out what it is that they want to represent with their music. And it shows with their new album, ‘Enter 4.’ Not only have they made Grapevine’s Best Icelandic album in 2012 by a country mile, but they’ve also created what is probably one of the most searingly bleak and honest records from an Icelandic group in what feels like…forever?”
Axel Haraldsson – Drums
Gudmundur Óskar Gudmundssson – Bass
Hjörtur Ingvi Jóhansson – Piano/Keyboard
Högni Egilsson – Singer/Guitar
Rebekka Bryndís Björnsdóttir – Bassoon/Percussions
Sigrídur Thorlacius – Singer
Viktor Orri Árnason – Violin
“This is an album that is just so big it pushes at the seams and attempts to engulf the atmosphere. It demands that you give it your full and undivided attention.” Artrocker ****
“None of it should work, but it does, thrilingly so. This is electrifying, edge-of-the-seat stuff.” Sunday Times ****
“Iceland takes disco-soul for a romp up Broadway.” Mojo ****
“Hjaltalín manage to make their outré compatriots – Sigur Rós, Múm, Björk – look a little mundane…” Uncut
“After 2008’s swoonsome debut, Reykjavík’s classically-trained Hjaltalín have unleashed their inner beast on this follow-up. ‘Terminal’…seethes with joyous disregard for protocol or constraint.” Clash 8/10
“a wonderful album. They are that rare thing: a band who arrive unheralded, unknown, and ensnare you instantly. Sleepdrunk Seasons sounds as if it was made for one reason only: to revel in the joy of making music.” – The Sunday Times
“swirling operatic sound….snuggly blissful shuffle.” – NME
“What makes Hjaltalin ooze with potential, and more importantly, sound nothing like any of their revered countrymen at all is their unflinching knack at being able to craft both winsome pop tunes alongside audaciously experimental arrangements with seemingly effortless ease.” – Drowned in Sound
“This is playful, frisky music that sounds like an endless summer night among friends, sliding from euphoria to melancholy and back again, lush with longing and promise. If the richness at times threatens to overwhelm, then the singing of Hogni Egilsson provides the grit that produces the pearl.” – Guardian
“The Icelandic collective’s UK debut is cheeky and breezy – like fresh air in London, like the sound of the morning thaw” – Plan b