Live Footage: VAR at Orgelsmidjan

Acclaimed Reykjavik-based post-rock collective VAR was founded in 2013 as a solo recording project of its founding member and creative mastermind Júliús Óttar Björgvinsson (vocals, guitar and piano). But shortly after he started the project, Björgvinsson began to feel as though his vision couldn’t be fully realized without assistance. So, he recruited those who were the closest to him — his wife Myrra Rós (synths, vocals), his brother Egil Björgvinsson (bass) and his friends Arnór Jónasson (guitar) and Adrni Freyr Þorgeirsson (drums). That lineup wrote and recorded the Vetur EP — and in the subsequent years after its release, the band managed to built up a fiercely loyal fanbase through relentless touring. 

After the release of the Vetur EP, the band went through a series of lineup changes: Ròs left the band as a result of competing professional and personal responsibilities and Sigurður Ingi Einarsson (drums) replaced Freyr Þorgeirsson. A smaller lineup forced a thorough reimagining and reworking of their sound — and the result was last year’s The Never Ending Year, which may arguably be the most ambitious album of their growing catalog.

Much like countless acts across the globe, the pandemic put the Icelandic act’s plans to support their new album with a tour on an indefinite hold. “After releasing an album and having no chance to play it live, we felt like we had to do something to give people at least a little taste of us playing these songs live,” VAR’s Júlíus Óttar Björgvinsson (vocals/guitar/keys) says in press notes. “VAR has always been about playing live and we always give everything we have to make the tension between us and the audience both peaceful and powerful. But since we could not play it live for people, we decided to make these live videos of us playing the songs at the organ workshop where we practice. We got our producer Eiður to do the sound for the videos and when he sent us the audio files Arnór brought that idea of releasing a live EP, because people had been asking us to do so. We were happy with the sound Eiður got from the session and how far it is from how the album sounds. It’s powerful, it’s raw and it’s honest. And that is VAR.”

The acclaimed Icelandic act recently released the four-song  Live at Orgelsmidjan EP, which was recorded at the band’s practice space, which also manages to be the country’s only pipe organ workshop. To celebrate the release of the EP, the band released live footage of the session, which manages to accurately capture the band’s intimate yet enormous sound paired with heart on sleeve lyricism. Starting off with the gorgeous, organ and guitar-led meditation “By The Ocean,” the EP quickly picks up the pace with the enormous and rousingly anthemic “Where to Find You,” which finds the band meshing elements of shoegaze, alt rock, arena rock and post rock. “Moments” is a slow-burning and delicate track centered around shimmering guitars with dramatic drumming and Júliús Óttar Björgvinsson’s achingly plaintive vocals that gradually becomes an enormous, arena rock friendly, towering ripper. The EP’s last single “Highlands” is centered around a classic alt rock sound structure — quiet verses with atmospheric guitars and synths and loud choruses with towering power chords.

The accompanying live footage manages to be split into intimately shot footage of the band performing the material or heading to their rehearsal space to play and some incredibly cinematic and awe-inspiring footage of their beautiful homeland. The footage seems to suggest that their surroundings have a direct impact on their sound.