Ske – Julietta 2 (2002)
Sigur Rós – Óveður (2016)
It has been a strange week for followers of international politics and competition soccer. While Europe reels from the Brexit vote, its footballers have tried to forge on through the Euro Cup – sprinting, tackling and corner-kicking as if nothing else matters, as if a header into the net might undo the havoc wrought by the U.K.’s referendum.
In some cases the soccer will have made things feel worse. Scotland didn’t even qualify. Northern Ireland (which voted Remain) fell to Wales (which voted Leave). Most notorious of all, the millionaire footballers of England – home to the richest league in all of soccer – were overpowered by brave, tenacious Iceland – whose entire population numbers one-26th that of London. According to English TV announcers, the humiliation of that defeat was guaranteed to overshadow “everything else” going on at home.
That’s absurd. But against the crushing disappointment of Britain’s 51.9 per cent, amidst my creeping dread that Things Are Not Going Well On Planet Earth, it’s been hugely rewarding to cheer on Iceland’s squad. They are plucky. They have wry grins and beards and a co-coach who spends the bulk of his time as a dentist. Their fans have this amazing, spooky cheer, where they clap their hands and shout like trolls. Above all, they are defiers of the odds – outlasting Spain, outlasting Croatia, playing France in Sunday’s quarter-finals – and defiance of the odds is almost all I can hope for these days.
So join me, if you will, rooting for Aron Gunnarsson, Kolbeinn Sigporsson and the rest. Help me cheer on one of the planet’s great geothermal nations, winners in a week without many winners. Iceland has produced so much exceptional music; pick the soundtrack that suits your frame of mind. Perhaps it’s Reykjavík’s Ske: breezy and self-assured, catchy as a nursery rhyme, pop music with space for strings and toy piano, sugar-highing organ. Julietta 2 feels simultaneously careworn and carefree. And it’s sung in Japanese.
Or else maybe Iceland’s heroics require something more dramatic. For that, as always, Sigur Ros, whose latest single sounds uncharacteristically shattered. Synths drift and missiles crash as Ovedur forges on, their singer Jónsi somehow navigating the fray. There’s a little of Mahler in it, a little Radiohead and some Jesus And Mary Chain. The song’s beauty weathers its violence and I guess that’s where the hope is.
Homeboy Sandman – Talking (Bleep) (2016)
On an unrelated topic: Perhaps you will remember the way the adults sound in the Peanuts television specials – teachers and parents squonking like trombones at Charlie Brown. For Talking (Bleep), the Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman employs a similar effect to represent the hopeless maunderers in his life. Verse by jumpy verse he takes aim at the browbeaters, dummies and timewasters, as well as his poor ex-girlfriend, layering likeable, sufferin’ suckatash between scribbles of squeaky horns. Something about it’s just compulsive: I keep putting on Talking again, waiting for Sandman to cut someone else down to size. The world would be safer if we resolved our differences with diss tracks.
Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.