As one of Iceland’s most successful exports, singer-songwriter Ásgeir has spent the time between his record-breaking debut (now celebrating its 10th anniversary) and today pushing the boundaries of his textured, thoughtful brand of folk-pop. On October 28th he’ll release his long anticipated fourth album ‘Time On My Hands’ via One Little Independent Records.
‘Time On My Hands’ sees Ásgeir in a state of self-reflection and experimentation, having spent much of the last few years in his home and in the studio deeply engrossed in writing, recording, translating and producing. On this album he’s entered new realms of composition, sensitively layering acoustics with electronics and brass. As with some of his previous work, most notably 2017’s ‘Afterglow’ and 2020’s ‘Bury The Moon’, Ásgeir plays with euphoric and choral elements of electronic pop music while keeping a tight grasp on the introspective, vocal-lead style of the acoustica that made him famous.
Across the LP shuffling jazz drums crack through the layered production beneath them, distant saxophone adds emotional emphasis and, amidst it all, Ásgeir’s singular, pure voice weaves narratives that recall the sparse and dark roads of his Icelandic hometown.
It opens with the assured relaxation of its title track and ‘Borderland’ where subtle instrumental flourishes colour vibrant lyricism and elevated vocals. It’s clear from the beginning that the collection is built around visuals of glacial scenery as Ásgeir soars above an icy terrain of enchanting melodic soundscapes with cinematic lucidity.
A strong breeze carries us into full flight with ‘Snowblind’, a track that boasts an unforgettable climatic arrangement and heftier beats. ‘Vibrating Walls’ is melancholy in its delivery, while ‘Blue’ is light and crisp. The towering strides of ‘Giantess’ build steadily, exploring a haunting and powerful mythological allegory. It’s on tracks like this, and the retrospective ‘Like I Am’, that one can fully appreciate the beauty of Ásgeir’s lyrics, worked into English from their original Icelandic with his brother Steini and Pétur Ben. As has become traditional for them, much of the album is also inspired by the writing of Ásgeir’s father, celebrated poet Einar Georg Einarsson.
Gorgeous ballad ‘Waiting Room’ and the hypnotic, propulsive ‘Golden Hour’ work together like hazy memories of carefree, simpler times; walking by lakes, forests and countrysides, reflecting on the past, and things that might’ve been different. Album closer ‘Limitless’ philosophizes on our individualist need to consume and the insignificance of our daily struggles in comparison to the scope of the wider universe. It asks the listener to allow themselves to see things from a different perspective, while spacey ambience is littered with satellite-like synth embellishments.
The extended time that Ásgeir had to work on the material gave him space to venture into different synth sounds, he tells us; “There’s a synth repair guy that works at the studio and there’s a lot of vintage synthesizers that come through there. We bought an old Memorymoog off him while recording the album and I used it on many of the songs. I wrote Vibrating Walls on a Korg PS-3100. Korg Delta has always been one of my favourite synths and it was used on a few tracks. I use my voice as the bass sound in Golden Hour, I got the idea after listening to Rank and File by Moses Sumney”.
The rolling landscapes aesthetic of the record was inspired by Ásgeirs own relationship with music over the last two years, consuming mostly while he was running outdoors, or while on long drives. He says that “some of the albums or music that stand out from that time were Caribou’s album Suddenly, Caroline Polichek-Pang, Dijon, Altopalo, Big Thief, Michael Kiwanuka, Sault, Ethan Gruska, Blake Mills and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. This music probably has something to do with how the record came out, combined with earlier influences.”
‘Time On My Hands’ was recorded in Studio Hljóðrit where Ásgeir has always recorded, working closely with producer Guðmundur Kristinn Jónsson, he also recorded some of it at home. Ásgeir plays the bulk of the instruments himself but also invited the likes of drummers Nils Törnqvist and Kristinn Snær Agnarson, and the brass trio Samúel Jón Samúelsson, Kjartan Hákonarson and Óskar Guðjónsson as well as Pétur Ben to add the occasional percussion or guitar.
As ruminated on in ‘Borderland’, the whole album asks us to allow ourselves to glide over borders, both the physical, the ones we put up ourselves, and those between reality and imagination. It’s about freedom, the desire for adventure, and taking flight to escape isolation, as well as appreciating the natural wonders that surround us every day.
1. Time On My Hands
4. Vibrating Walls
7. Like I Am
8. Waiting Room
9. Golden Hour