Over the Great Escape weekend you probably heard a lot about the theft of John Grant’s laptop at his gig (more on that below), but definitely not enough about the support artist… Ásgeir Trausti.
In fact, John Grant is working with Ásgeir to translate the younger artist’s highly successful album, Dýrð í dauðaþögn (In the Silence), into English to try to bring his music to even more people. Ásgeir and his father have both received awards for the album, with the latter having contributed most of the lyrics. Which always brings up an interesting point… are English audiences missing out on a hidden meaning in the words, something that can only be expressed in Icelandic?
Maybe. There’s certainly a lively debate on most of Ásgeir’s YouTube videos along those lines, but I can’t think of anyone better suited for the task than John Grant. Not that anybody asked me, but if they had, I’d probably have recommended the one guy I know of who’s just moved to Iceland. Among the best currently working lyricists, John Grant is best placed to teach the younger musician how to reach out and really grab audiences with a simple, staggeringly honest couplet, and can draw on that to convey to us the stories of lyrics written in a language that still allows its speakers to read medieval texts.
Purists will probably insist on owning the original with the Icelandic vocals, but having seen this humble and earnest performer sing in both English and his native tongue, I’m inclined to trust his judgement on this one and just roll with it. The underlying poetry inherent in the Icelandic comes through, unhindered by a language barrier even to an English speaker. But check out the English version of ‘Going Home’ and the Icelandic ‘Heimförin’ on this post and make up your own mind.
Having seen the sessions Ásgeir recorded at Toe Rag studios in London, I sat waiting for an acoustic set to start. What I actually witnessed was a cacophony of electronic drums, theremin and keyboards creating a vast sound scape that’s fans of Bon Iver and Sigur Rós should definitely try out. At St George’s Church, the gorgeous resonance of the noise blended synaesthetically into the visual one, enhancing the image of Ásgeir centre stage, his body moving between soft concentration and ecstatic exclamation as the religious iconography reflected the last of the summer light and the accented click of the electronic cross stick reverberated above our heads.
It’s unsurprising that with a mentor such as John Grant, known for his proficient and ingenious lyrics, Ásgeir would feel the confidence that it’s possible to translate the meaning in what he’s singing. To achieve the same couplets that hook even casual listeners in, and to reach so deliberately out into the world with every aspect of your soul on show and still pull it off with dignity is no mean feat. Instinct tells me though that Iceland’s latest contribution to the world music scene will find his own quiet way through, drawing on this strength to reach out to every listener, no matter what language they hear him singing in.
Ásgeir supports John Grant in the UK this May followed by a European tour supporting Of Monsters And Men in July and August. See all upcoming dates here: bit.ly/17pIytV
This post appeared on John Grant’s facebook page the night after the gig:
“After our show in Brighton tonight, someone who was apparently in the audience stole my computer off the stage, which has my entire life on it, i am shocked and just completely speechless, i don’t understand why or how someone could do this, but if whoever took it is reading this, if you turn it in to the church where we played or leave it at Jurys Inn in Brighton, there will be no consequences, no questions asked. I have so many things on that computer which i need.” via Facebook