[19 October 2010]
Icelandic prog-rockers Svanfridur formed from the ashes of various rock bands in the early 1970s and released exactly one album, 1972’s newly reissued What’s Hidden There? What’s striking. listening to it close to 40 years after its original inception, is not how “Icelandic” it sounds, but just the opposite. Forget Sigur Ros, these boys could be from San Francisco or London, given the careful lyrical phrasing and slavish devotion to the musical conventions of the era (right down to the “To be Played Loud” injunction in the liner notes). All the familiar hippie-prog elements are here: trippy album art, meandering guitar lines, folk-rock interludes and cod-philosophical lyrics. “It’s easy to get hurt when you’re human,” we are told, “You just have to search your own heart”. Cue the recorders. The best musician by far is bass player Gunnar Hermannson, who restlessly propels the songs while never overwhelming them. The band is at its best when settling into straight ahead rockers like “Give Me Some Gas” and “What Now You People Standing By.” Unfortunately, the era demanded various side trips into folky strumming, and after a while Peter Kristjannson’s Bowie-ish stylings grow pale. For fans of the era, or of psych/prog-rock curiosities in general, this is worth a listen; the musicianship is certainly competent enough. Rarely, though, does the band elevate itself to something more than mimicry.