100 Best Icelandic Pop & Rock Albums
May 6, 2009 7:14 PM   Subscribe

100 Best Icelandic Pop & Rock Albums all streamable in full for free. Icelandic state broadcaster RÚV and Icelandic subscription music website tónlist.is have published what they, their team of experts and the Icelandic public consider to be the 100 best Icelandic rock and pop albums of all time. Björk, Sigur Rós, Múm and The Sugarcubes don't need much introduction but below the cut there are short description of the other artists. [via RÚV]

200.000 naglbítar: Name means 200000 Nippers (as in the tool for removing nails, this is a Halldór Laxness reference). Rose to fame in the mid 90s with an anthemic pop song about a woman who's hiding the fact her husband beats her up called Hæð í húsi (A Floor in a House). Their second biggest hit was Brjótum það sem brotnar (Break That Which is Breaks, as in the nihilist idea that nothing that can be broken should be left unbroken). They made an album with Lúðrasveit verkalýðsins (The Laborers' Marching Band) who also featured in Heima, the recent documentary about Sigur Rós.

Ampop: Starting life as an electronic duo, they added a drummer to the line-up and became more melodic.

Apparat Organ Quartet: The world largest quartet, comprised of four organists and one drummer. The band's main songwriter is Jóhann Jóhannsson started out as the keyboard player in goth-rock band Ham (see below) but has now become a respected composer.

Baggalútur: The band version of Icelandic comedy website Baggalútur, which is the Icelandic equivalent of The Onion.

Bjartmar Guðlaugsson: Folky singer-songwriter who was incredibly popular in the late eighties. He started out as a lyricist for others, including Björk at one point.

Björgvin Halldórsson: A popstar in Iceland since the late sixties, with countless hits. His only album in this list is an album of children's music he made with guitarist Gunnar Þórðarson (see below). His son, Krummi, is the lead singer of Mínus (see below).

Botnleðja: Started out as a catchy pop-punk band in the vein of the Buzzcocks, they went to write more complicated rock songs. Toured abroad under the name Silt, which is a direct translation of their name.

Bragi Valdimar og Memfismafían: Bragi Valdimar is a member of Baggalútur (see above) and Memfismafían (The Memphis Mafia) is a collection of various other well known Icelandic musicians, including members of The Sugarcubes, Hjálmar (see below) and many others. The album Gilligill is a collection of humorous children's songs.

Bubbi Morthens: The Icelandic Bruce Springsteen. Started out as a singer-songwriter whose songs were about life as a working class Icelander but he's since explored countless different musical styles. He founded Utangarðsmenn (see below) around the time he was first becoming popular as a solo artist. He later went on to found new wave bands Egó (see below) and Das Kapital. He later formed GCD (see below) with Icelandic sixties rock legend Rúnar Júlíusson, member of Hljómar (see below) and Trúbrot (see below). He's also worked extensively with singer-songwriter Megas (see below) as well as releasing a great number of solo albums.

Dikta: A tuneful indie rock band.

Dr. Gunni og vinir hins: Dr. Gunni is a long-time fixture on the Icelandic music scene, having been one of Iceland's premier alternate rockers in the late eighties and into the mid nineties. Abbababb! is his best selling album, a collection of children's songs, the breakout hit being Prumpufólkið (The Fartpeople).

Egó: Iceland's premier New Wave band, founded by Bubbi Morthens (see above).

Ellen Kristjánsdóttir: Sister of KK (see below), she's mainly an interpreter of other people's songs. The album on this list, Sálmar (Hymns), is a collection of traditional Icelandic Christian songs.

Elly Vilhjálms: Sister of Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson (see below), who she sings with on the one album she has on the list. Iceland's premier female singer of pop and jazz standards in the sixties and seventies.

Emilíana Torrini: Probably best known in the Anglophone world for singing Gollum's Song over the end-credits of The Two Towers, Emilíana Torrini has had a long solo career and has co-written a number of songs for other recording artists, including Kylie Minogue, and collaborated with Paul Oakenfold, Gus Gus (see below) and Thievery Corporation.

Ensími: An alternative rock band. One of their albums, not on this list, was produced by Steve Albini.

FM Belfast: Electro band with three singers. Features Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason of Múm. On the album How to Make Friends they cover old school techno smash Pump by Snap.

Fræbbblarnir: Iceland's first punk band. For some reason their selected album, Viltu nammi væna? (Do you want candy dear?) is not playable.

GCD: One of many popular bands founded by Bubbi Morthens (see above) this time as a collaborative project with bass guitarist and singer Rúnar Júlíusson, former member of Hljómar (see below), Trúbrot (see below) and many other bands. The name comes from what are supposedly the three most common chords in rock songs.

Grýlurnar: New wave all-girl band. Made Iceland's all time most popular movie Með allt á hreinu (Everything Clear) with the band Stuðmenn (see below). The movie featured both bands on a tour of Iceland competing for popularity. The lead singer of Grýlurnar, Ragnhildur Gísladóttir, went on to join Stuðmenn.

Gunnar Þórðarson: Former member of Hljómar (see below), Trúbrot (see below) and many other bands. Primarily a guitarist and songwriter his solo works have been collaborative, such as Himinn og jörð (Heaven and Earth), which features a number of singers, such as Björgvin Halldórsson (see above) and former Hljómar and Trúbrot singer Shady Owens.

GusGus: Started out as an artistic collaborative, with music only being one part of what they did, but soon the band aspect became the main focus. Countless people have at one time or another been members of GusGus, including Emilíana Torrini (see above) and Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson lead singer of Nýdönsk (see below). Through the years their music has progressed from trip-hop to electro.

Ham: Iceland's foremost goth rock band. They never quite managed to record a proper full-length album, but their defining statement as the live recording of their final concert, released as Ham Lengi Lifi! (Long Live Ham!) The principal songwriter was Sigurjón Kjartansson, who was also one of the two main singers (singing in an operatic style), the other being Óttar Proppe, who growled. They were fiercely loved by their followers (including Björk) while they were active but never widely popular. Sigurjón Kjartansson later went on to become one half of Iceland's most popular comedic duo, Tvíhöfði (Biceps or Doublehead). Ham always had a streak of humor in them, covering Abba's Voulez-vous and The Motors' Airport.

Hjaltalín: An indie pop band whose cover of Þú komst við hjartað í mér (You Touched My Heart) by Páll Óskar (see below) was a huge hit in Iceland last year.

Hjálmar: Iceland's finest reggae band. Members of Hjálmar later went on to back Megas (see below) as Senuþjófarnir (The Scene Stealers).

Hljómar: One of countless Beatlepop bands which sprang up around the world in the early sixties. Singer and bassist Rúnar Júlíusson had the distinction of also being in Iceland's national soccer squad and dating, and later marrying, Miss Iceland. Hljómar featured under the name Thor's Hammer on the second volume of garage rock compilation series Nuggets.

Hrekkjusvínin: A supergroup of folk and rock musicians who came together to make a children's album in 1977, starting an Icelandic tradition of serious rock musicians making children's music in Iceland. All lyrics on their only album, Lög unga fólkins (The Young Folks' Songs), were by novelist and poet Pétur Gunnarsson, all music was by Valgeir Guðjónsson of Spilverk þjóðanna (see below) and later of Stuðmenn (see below) and Leifur Hauksson of folk group Þokkabót. The lyrics were quite subversive and anti-capitalist but despite that (or perhaps because of that), the album instantly became a classic of Icelandic children's music.

Jeff Who?: Icelandic indie rock band.

Jet Black Joe: Rock band whose music has often been compared to grunge. They were very popular in the early nineties before disbanding. The lead singer, Páll Rósinkranz, went on to be a singer of Christian spiritual music before reforming the band in this decade.

KK: Folk and blues musician. Real name Kristján Kristjánsson, he's the brother of Ellen Kristjánsdóttir (see above).

Lay Low: Stage name of Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir. She's a singer-songwriter who plays slow, atmospheric music.

Magnús Þór Guðmundsson: A long time fixture of the Icelandic music scene, first as a member of the band Change. He released a number of solo albums, including the one on this list, Álfar (Elves).

Mannakorn: Seventies rock band.

Maus: Indie rock band popular in the nineties and into this decade before they disbanded. Roger O'Donnell, keyboard player of The Cure, played with Maus on the album Lof mér að falla að þínu eyra (Let Me Fit Your Ear).

Megas: His public image in Iceland is some combination of Bob Dylan, George Bataille and a bum. Starting out as a folk singer with an eponymous album in 1972, he would later explore a number of musical styles. He is also considered one of the Iceland's best poets. His lyrics are written according to traditional Icelandic poetics, but his subject matter is routinely very subversive and has been from the very first. His life has been just as controversial, having often been on the brink of death from ODing on drugs. Á bleikum náttkjólum (In pink nightgowns), which he made with Spilverk þjóðanna (see below) in 1977, is widely acknowledged to be his masterpiece, a caustic punk-influenced rock album that routinely tops Icelandic album best-of lists (along with Ágætis Byrjun by Sigur Rós, Homogenic and Debut by Björk and Lifun by Trúbrot (see below)). Referenced in the song Iceland by The Fall.

Mínus: Hardcore punk band fronted by Krummi, son of Björgvin Halldórsson (see above).

Mugison: Experimental singer-songwriter from Ísafjörður in the Westfjords.

Nýdönsk: Pop band who were very popular in the nineties.

Olga Guðrún Árnadóttir: Though she later went on to be a playwright Olga Guðrún Árnadóttir is to this day most famous for her 1975 children's album Eniga Meniga. All the lyrics were written by novelist Ólafur Haukur Símonarson.

Páll Óskar: Brother of Sigrún Hjálmtýrsdóttir, singer of Spilverk Þjóðanna (see below). Páll Óskar is most famous as a singer of disco songs but he's done all kinds of other music. Shocked some Icelanders in the early nineties by being very open about his homosexuality. He also had a long-running Dr. Love type show where he educated a generation of Icelanders in matters of the heart and pants.

Pétur Ben: Singer-songwriter and trained composer.

Purrkur pillnikk: Early Icelandic punk band, fronted by Einar Örn Benediktsson, later singer of The Sugarcubes. Purrkur pillnikk's motto, það skiptir ekki máli hvað þú getur heldur hvað þú gerir (it doesn't matter what you can but what you do) became the call to arms of a whole generation of Icelandic punk bands. Bass player Bragi Ólafsson would also found The Sugarcubes with Einar Örn.

Quarashi: Icelandic rap band who had a minor worldwide hit with Stick'em Up.

Sálin hans Jóns míns: A pop band that has been very popular for the last twenty years.

Spilverk þjóðanna: Folk-rock band.

Stuðmenn: Iceland's all-time most popular pop band. Originally started as a joke by Valgeir Guðjónsson of Spilverk Þjóðanna (see above) and Jakob Frímann Magnússon in 1970. The name Stuðmenn was their idea for the worst possible bandname, stuð meaning both shock (as in electroshock) and good times and menn meaning men. A translation of the name would be something like The Good Time Guys. Valgeir and Jakob fleshed out the joke with members of Spilverk Þjóðanna (see above) and put out the album Sumar á Sýrlandi in 1975 which they performed anonymously in animal masks. After releasing a follow-up to the unexpectedly popular Sumar á Sýrlandi the band was shelved for a while as Valgeir focused on Spilverk Þjóðanna. In 1982, after Spilverk þjóðanna had quit, Valgeir wrote an album's worth of songs that he thought would fit Stuðmenn. Instead of just releasing an album the band decided to make a movie about a fictional band, called Stuðmenn, who would tour Iceland in competition with the all girl new wave band Grýlurnar (see above). The movie, Með allt á hreinu (Clear on Everything), became a massive hit and remains to this day Iceland's all time most popular movie. Stuðmenn went on to release a slew of popular albums and is still playing, after a hiatus in the nineties.

Sykurmolarnir: The Icelandic name for The Sugarcubes.

Todmobile: Popular rock band in the nineties.

Trúbrot: Sixties rock supergroup, made up of members of Hljómar (see above) and Flowers. Lifun was their masterpiece, a concept album about the human lifespan that is unusually short for a prog rock concept album. Lifun routinely tops Icelandic rock album best-of lists.

Utangarðsmenn: Very popular punk band founded by Bubbi Morthens (see above).

Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson: Popular singer in the seventies. He died shortly after releasing his most popular album, Hana nú, in a car crash in Luxembourg. The song Söknuður (Sorrow) has become a standard at funerals.

Þeyr: One of Iceland's best punk bands. One of the many bands to have members later go on to found The Sugarcubes. The band worked with Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke but the resulting material was never released. For some reason the album that's on the list, Mjötviður mær, is not playable.

Þursaflokkurinn: A folk-rock band fronted by Egill Ólafsson of Spilverk Þjóðanna (see above) and Stuðmenn (see above).

[Full disclosure: One of the guitarists in Maus is a friend of mine, Valgeir Guðjónsson is my first cousin, once removed, Baggalútur once made fun of me, I once worked in a bookstore with Ham's Óttar Proppe and I once worked with Höskuldur Ólafsson of Quarashi and Árni Vilhjálmsson of FM Belfast doing groundskeeping and MeFi's own svenni is in FM Belfast.]
posted by Kattullus (46 comments total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and Rokk í Reykjavík is the soundtrack album for the movie of the same name that featured many of the bands featured in this post.
posted by Kattullus at 7:18 PM on May 6, 2009


It is a bit hard to navigate a site where I don't speak the launguage.

I dig a lot of these artists. Múm and Emilíana Torrini especially. I so hope this streams to the US. Internet issues (real slow loading), so will have to see tomorrow.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:25 PM on May 6, 2009

what, no kukl?

posted by UbuRoivas at 7:37 PM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm surprised too that K.U.K.L. aren't represented. This being a best-of lists there are a whole bunch of albums I'd have included that aren't there and a number of albums whose presence puzzle me. If you like K.U.K.L. you should really track down some Þeyr. My album sadly got lost along with about 30 of my favorite CDs (I mourn that lost carrying case nearly every day).
posted by Kattullus at 7:45 PM on May 6, 2009

Of course you're related to someone on this list; by my quick calculation, every third person in the country is in a band.

On a more serious note, however, I am somewhat amazed that this list actually appears to leave off one of the few Icelandic CDs I own.

It's noirish, eclectic, jazz-inflected, very, very cool pop that I like a lot and highly recommend: TRÚNÓ by Tomas R. Einarsson (featuring vocals by Ragnheidur Gröndal and Mugison)
posted by ornate insect at 7:49 PM on May 6, 2009

Surely in the top 100 there would be room for the Funerals, Kimono, seabear and Múm, no?
posted by mds35 at 7:53 PM on May 6, 2009

#101 - Slowblow, by Slowblow.

And yeah, both Seabear records, as well.
posted by god hates math at 7:59 PM on May 6, 2009

Too bad dub techno/ambient doesn't count as rock or pop.
posted by aubilenon at 8:09 PM on May 6, 2009

#102: Will I Dream During the Process?

Thanks for this post!
posted by googly at 8:11 PM on May 6, 2009

This is a fantastic post, Kattullus.
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:11 PM on May 6, 2009

Also: your tag list is going to break metafilter somehow. I am sure of it.
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:15 PM on May 6, 2009

No Siggi Ármann either?
posted by clcapps at 8:21 PM on May 6, 2009

cowbellemoo: Also: your tag list is going to break metafilter somehow. I am sure of it.

Heh... well... I figure if your name is in a post you should get a tag. At first I decided against it but it does make it easier to search if, say, someone wants to make a post about Thor's Hammer or Megas.
posted by Kattullus at 8:22 PM on May 6, 2009

[Full disclosure: One of the guitarists in Maus is a friend of mine, Valgeir Guðjónsson is my first cousin, once removed, Baggalútur once made fun of me, I once worked in a bookstore with Ham's Óttar Proppe and I once worked with Höskuldur Ólafsson of Quarashi and Árni Vilhjálmsson of FM Belfast doing groundskeeping and MeFi's own svenni is in FM Belfast.]

New rule (to prevent self-links): no one from Iceland is allowed to post about anyone else from Iceland.
posted by grobstein at 8:24 PM on May 6, 2009 [9 favorites]

The best thing about Kattullus is that he really does look like you would expect a young, clever, sophisticated Icelander (is that a word?) to look.

The next best thing is that he shares.
posted by yhbc at 8:25 PM on May 6, 2009

What's with all the weird squiggles over vowels?

Maybe this is just a comment to mark this thread to appear in "my comments," since I don't use favorites on MeFi.
posted by ericb at 8:34 PM on May 6, 2009

It's a weird list, which spends too much time on some bands and neglects a lot of classics (including many which received release outisde Iceland.) Bless? Thor's Hammer? Olympia? Reptile? Purrkur Pillnikk's "other" classic, "Googooplex?" Ghostgital? Where are they?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:38 PM on May 6, 2009

What's with all the weird squiggles over vowels?

they're graffiti by the huldufolk.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:46 PM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dee Xtrovert: It's a weird list, which spends too much time on some bands and neglects a lot of classics (including many which received release outisde Iceland.) Bless? Thor's Hammer? Olympia? Reptile? Purrkur Pillnikk's "other" classic, "Googooplex?" Ghostgital? Where are they?

Thor's Hammer are there, under their Icelandic name, Hljómar. But yeah, there's some oddness on that list, but then that goes for pretty much every 100bestwhatever list. That said, I love a good third of the albums and quite like at least another third on there which is more than I can say about most lists like that.

But yeah, the bands mentioned in the comments, and some others, such as my beloved Skakkamanage, I would have been happy to see on that list.
posted by Kattullus at 8:49 PM on May 6, 2009

Jeff Who? Is an awesome band. My friend just got back from Iceland and told me about the band (my name might be Jeff).
posted by Midnight Rambler at 8:57 PM on May 6, 2009

Ooh, I know Ghostgital! I know (of) them! Definitely not pop or rock, unless all Icelanders bend genres at will. In that case, Ghostgital may well be some sort of pop music.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:06 PM on May 6, 2009

I'm from Iceland; I have nothing to say about anyone else from Iceland. The link is great.
posted by hypersloth at 10:22 PM on May 6, 2009

oh my, this sounds like it will be awesome. the prospect of new music to my ears always makes me happy.
posted by the aloha at 10:52 PM on May 6, 2009

posted by bjork24 at 10:54 PM on May 6, 2009

I can't make it play, and it's killing me.

I recognize some of these names from my days as an import buyer for an indie record store (god, the number of Gling-Glo that went through my fingers back in those days, you would not believe).
posted by padraigin at 11:07 PM on May 6, 2009

Oh, and Dee Xtrovert, if you like Thor's Hammer, and this goes for anyone else as well, you should really check out Lifun by Trúbrot. It's an amazing album which, and this is a plus for many, is sung in English (and only a couple of the lyrics are really weird, but mostly it's for the content, not the syntax, "Looking in a mirror of my destination/See myself reflected in a masturbation/Out in the sea of doubt and insecurity" is the most memorable example).
posted by Kattullus at 11:18 PM on May 6, 2009

padraigin: I can't make it play, and it's killing me.

Is it timing out? It's working just fine for me and I'm in Rhode Island. Are you clicking on the album cover and getting the player? The player is a pop-up so your pop-up zapper might be keeping it from showing up.
posted by Kattullus at 11:20 PM on May 6, 2009

I first heard some of these bands in the eighties thanks to Enigma Records' Geyser compilation.

Þeyr "Killer Boogie" video

My favorite version of Purrkur Pillnikk, "Óvænt" (but bad youtube audio)
posted by D.C. at 11:33 PM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, wow, what a great post. This made my day. Thank you.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:38 PM on May 6, 2009

I saw Apparat Organ Quartet in Rotterdam. They are weird, in a steampunk Kraftwerk sort of way.

Epic post, Kattullus.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:48 AM on May 7, 2009

Holy crap.

Also: what, no Mammút?
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 1:07 AM on May 7, 2009

Seconded, and absolutely amazing post Kattullus.

and to add my two cents on missing groups/albums--at least in terms of punk--the hardcore scene in Iceland has grown significantly in the past 5 years. I Adapt's No Pasaran and Gavin Portland's Views of Distant Towns are two examples of the continued growth of Iceland's underground music community.

I was at I Adapt's last show. It was February and I remember having no problem standing outside in a t-shirt afterwards, steam pouring off me, my hair frosting a bit. Stagedives, costumes, singalongs, and a packed Hellirinn (The Cave) made for a lively and amazing introduction to Icelandic music when I was living there last year. Of course, hardcore isn't for everyone but Icelandic DIY is alive and well and should be duly noted.
posted by auralcoral at 2:52 AM on May 7, 2009

Kattullus wins, but...

I can't seem to get it to play. (In Germany, in case that matters). I get the player, but it won't play.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:00 AM on May 7, 2009

what, no kukl?

I second this emotion.
posted by fire&wings at 3:44 AM on May 7, 2009

i see that the music is available for sale...is this an attempt to bring iceland back from complete bankruptcy? if so, it's a great plan.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:38 AM on May 7, 2009

what, no kukl?

Man, what an oversight.

But the list is great, and they are playing fine for me. I've only heard of a few of the bands on that list, so I'm having fun hearing new stuff.
posted by Forktine at 5:54 AM on May 7, 2009

Kattullus, I just....I just freaking love you.
posted by chara at 6:00 AM on May 7, 2009

How could anyone not love Kindin Einar, Hjálmar's Icelandic take on Pluto Shervington's Ram Goat Liver? I mean, have you no heart?

Takk fyrir mig, Kári
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 6:13 AM on May 7, 2009

Many of the talented performers are available for marriage. Good availability of housing. Educated foreigners with liquid currency especially welcome.
posted by krilli at 6:25 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

So...I was just in Iceland last week and how come all I heard on the radio was second-rate American pop from 10 years ago?
posted by kittyprecious at 7:07 AM on May 7, 2009

So...I was just in Iceland last week and how come all I heard on the radio was second-rate American pop from 10 years ago?

This is why. Pretty much every radio station in the country is run by that conglomerate and all they play is easy-listening pap. One of the two state run radio stations has some good programs and is pretty much your only chance at hearing actual good music.
Occasionally an interesting, independent radio station will pop up but they rarely last long. In a nation of 300k people niche markets are hard to sustain.
posted by aldurtregi at 7:40 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Am I just missing the Múm?

Also, how long will this stay up?
posted by cjorgensen at 7:43 AM on May 7, 2009

No, Múm isn't there, strangely. When I first read it over I thought that Múm was there, and I wrote the front page bit, and then I forgot to change that once I had written the more inside guide.

I'm not entirely sure how long it will stay up, but at least until the end of the month.
posted by Kattullus at 7:47 AM on May 7, 2009

It goes down when the voting is over on May 29.
posted by aldurtregi at 7:55 AM on May 7, 2009

Man, listening to albums I haven't listened to in forever sure throws up some curveballs. I can't fathom how I could forget about Grýlurnar's strange cover of Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's All Right. Here's a live version. It's also on the album Mávastellið, which is one of the 100.
posted by Kattullus at 6:03 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

So I didn't imagine GusGus! This means there is more! Yes!
posted by rubah at 9:08 PM on May 15, 2009

« Older Wislawa Szymborska   |   Arachnid overlords Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments