Reviews of Icelandic musicians often remark on the exterior conditions of their homeland. Sigur Rós is supposed to be in tune with the elemental forces of the windy ice-fields; Björk is a glacier pixie; Múm is skipping around stone circles with benevolent trolls. (Though this talk of the little people seems to have died down after someone let slip that any Icelandic band trying to land a foreign record contract would tell the foreigners that they believed in pixies as a matter of course; it was part of the mystique.) Dýrðin is an exception. They’re an indoor, toybox band, all twee-pop keyboards and buoyant melodies with no chilly-wicca mysteries about them. This debut album of theirs is so chipper it could run up a tree and eat nuts. The only moderately disconcerting thing about them is the eð in their name, which should be pronounced, very roughly, eth.
Are they a band to fall in love with? Only if you also love the toys that come out of vending machines—no, not the cheap rubber balls and wobbly snakes, but the ones that have had some thought put into them, the ones with some element of whimsy, like the plastic Baby Tweety that comes dressed as a mango, a pear, or a can of roses. If you can see humour in Baby Tweety then you’re ready for Dýrðin’s songs about trampolining grandfathers and women who want to date Mr. Spock. Their press kit is one of the funniest I’ve read this year. The competition is minimal, but that shouldn’t be counted against them. “Descended,” it begins, “from rustic vikings and abhorrent peasants, many Icelanders delight in putrid food….” The song synopses in the CD case are worth reading as well.
“...girl meets guy and thinks he’s really cute, and by the fourth line they are having a wild and sordid love affair. There’s a slight problem though; he’s a horrible green and slimy alien who smells like a henhouse.”
“One day [an old man] jumps so high that he disappears into orbit, leaving nothing but his false teeth behind. The granddaughter decides to join him and buys a special Russian cosmonautical trampoline order to practise her trampoline skills, absolutely determined that they’ll orbit the earth together like Laika and Yuri Gagarin.”
“‘Hunangsdropar’ introduces exactly eighteen billion bees….”
Most of the album is in Icelandic, so the exact details of the bees’ story will have to be imagined rather than understood by much of Dýrðin’s audience. The words to their two English-language songs, “Bubble Girl” and “Wake Up”, are as simple as Frente!‘s used to be (“And it’s warm outside / The sun is shining oh so bright / And I feel all right / As long as you’re by my side”, and so on). If this is indicative of the lyrics in the other songs, then we might not be missing out on too much. They’re cute in the same way that the words to “Accidentally Kelly Street” are cute, but you can bop along to the music without them.
The singer’s name is Hafdis, sister of Einar their guitarist and keyboard player. He formed the group with two friends in 1994; it broke up in 1995 then reformed in 2002 with the addition of a drummer, Tóti, a “pummeling beast” who runs a publishing company as his day job and translates Russian and German authors into Icelandic. Among the bands in their press kit’s RIYL (recommended if you like …) list, I see the Maybellines and the Shermans, two groups from the Shelflife stable, and if Dýrðin hadn’t been picked up by Skipping Stones, then Shelflife would have been a natural home for them. Both labels enjoy this kind of adorable jangle-pop, this happy naiveté. It’s the sort of music that doesn’t stoop to denying real-world trauma—it jumps straight to ignoring it completely.
Yet there’s a little more to the band than keyboards and happiness. Dýrðin starts chirpily with “Popp & Co.”, but by the time it’s reached “Hvert Í Hoppandi” the guitars and drums have become more abrasive, the keyboard less prominent, and we’re hearing the influence of one of the other bands that start with “the” on their RIYL list: the Ramones.
Dýrðin say that their name would also start with “the” if they translated it. We’d be calling them the Glory. But in English, “the Glory” might suggest gospel or hubris unless we were thinking of other bands who have used their “the” to mean less and more than it does: the Smiths, the Music, etc. We would have to say it with our tongues in our cheeks, and remind ourselves that when they write a song (“17. Júni”) about a national hero, Jon Sigurosson, they’re not constructing a solemn epic about a literary figurehead who campaigned in Copenhagen for Icelandic self-determination. Instead, they’re telling us how much his statue wishes it could come down from its pedestal and eat hot dogs with the festival crowd on Icelandic Independence Day. There’s only one English-language phrase in “17. Júni”, but it stands out because Hafdis sings it several times. It sums up the band’s appeal pretty well. “Candy floss! / ...Candy floss! / ...Candy floss!”