New Audio: Icelandic Duo Hugar Releases a Brooding and Gorgeously Cinematic Single

Hugar is an up-and-coming indie duo, comprised of longtime Seltjarnarnes, Iceland-born friends  Bergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson. Meeting when they were children, who played in a number of local bands,  Þórisson and  Jónsson quickly became friends. Back in 2013, Þórisson had collaborated with internationally acclaimed Icelandic artist Olafur Arnalds and was working in a local studio while Jónsson studied architecture. And as the story goes, when the owner of Þórisson’s studio went on tour, the duo started casually writing material together for fun. During these largely impromptu recordings sessions, the duo eventually wound up writing the material that would comprise their 2014 self-titled debut, which was independently released. 

Initially released as a free download on the duo’s website, their self-titled album quickly attained buzz across social media and the blogosphere:  The album quickly averaged over 430,000+ monthly listeners on Spotify, as “Inngangur” amassed over 20 million Spotify streams globally and “Felt” amassed over 12 million Spotify streams. The album received praise from the likes of The Line of Best Fit and The Independent — and as a result of their growing national and international profile, the duo have made appearances at festivals including Iceland Airwaves. 

Slated for an August 23, 2019 release through Sony Masterworks Records, the duo’s highly anticipated sophomore album Varða translates to English as “cairn,” a tiny rock tower that heralded the way as the next cairn would always be visible from its predecessor. Historically, such markers wound up signaling process for Icelandic travelers heading towards the country’s National Parliament — known as one of the oldest existing legislatures in the world. In fact, as a result of the country’s geographic location, which often meant extended daylight during the solstice, travelers used varða to help them find their way rather than the stars. 

Interestingly, the duo began quietly working on the material that would eventually comprise Varða as early as 2014, which they created out of their own studio. “There was never a plan to make our first album; it just happened,” Þórisson says in press notes. “This time around, we set out to make a record that functioned as a whole piece where everything was related. It’s more polished from beginning to end.” Jónsson adds, “The studio enabled us to experiment and explore. We had the freedom to do everything we wanted without barriers. Under normal conditions, you have to rent a studio. We moved at our own pace and learned a lot about being patient and how to work together.”

Sonically, the duo began using an increasing amount of electronic flourishes, which wound up expanding their sonic palette. And with the majority of the recording sessions taking place at night, the material wound up being imbued with a nocturnal vibe. “We’re obviously very affected by our environment,” Þórisson admits in press notes. “Recording at night in the summertime when it’s bright is an energy that doesn’t make sense. As a human being, you’re supposed to be awake when it’s light and asleep when it’s dark. When the sun is out all day, you get this weird energy. You’re tired, but you want to keep going. Iceland is an anomaly in general. We have earthquakes, glaciers melting, and avalanches. It’s a ridiculous place to live for man. At the same time, it’s so beautiful that you can’t escape it.”

Varða’s later single is the slow-burning and brooding “Logn.” Centered around a composition featuring gently arpeggiated keys and a gorgeous string arrangement, the new single manages to be cinematic while hinting at acclaimed countrymen Sigur Ros, as it possesses a similar yearning quality. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given that unpredictability, it’s a trip worth taking over and over again. Listen to rippling piano usher in the widescreen sonics on the new single “Logn” streaming at Flaunt Magazine, and take a peak at the new video for “Órói” — the third part in a series of videos directed by Máni M. Sigfússon — premiering at Northern Transmissions and streaming at YouTube. Pre-order the album here.

“Similar to those piles of rocks, the songs are like small cairns on the album,” explains Bergur. “It’s not about the destination though, but rather this never-ending journey, which the whole record represents.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guideposts adorn the path of every journey, no matter the distance.

Historically, such markers signaled progress for Icelandic travelers headed towards the National Parliament of Iceland—known as the oldest existing legislature in the world. Given the country’s extended daylight, journeymen couldn’t rely on the stars, so they followed the Varða. Translated to “cairn” in English, these tiny rock towers heralded the way as the next cairn would always be visible from its predecessor. Icelandic duo HugarBergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson—envisioned such a trek on their second full-length and debut for Sony Music Masterworks, the appropriately titled Varða. A tectonic shift between classical orchestration, alternative ambience, and post-rock spirit, the 14 tracks string together an epic expedition awash in stark piano chords, gusts of lyrical brass, high-powered strings, off-kilter guitar, and brushstrokes of electronic swells.

Given that unpredictability, it’s a trip worth taking over and over again. Listen to rippling piano usher in the widescreen sonics on the new single “Logn” streaming at Flaunt Magazine, and take a peak at the new video for “Órói” — the third part in a series of videos directed by Máni M. Sigfússon — premiering at Northern Transmissions and streaming at YouTube. Pre-order the album here.

“Similar to those piles of rocks, the songs are like small cairns on the album,” explains Bergur. “It’s not about the destination though, but rather this never-ending journey, which the whole record represents.”

An intriguing journey brought these two longtime friends to this point. Natives of Seltjarnarnes just northwest of Reykjavík, they orbited each other in numerous local bands throughout childhood and developed a friendship. As Pétur pursued architecture and Bergur collaborated with luminaries such as Ólafur Arnalds, they casually decided to write together “for fun” in 2013. Bergur worked at a local studio, and when the proprietor left to tour, he called Pétur. During a series of impromptu sessions, they amassed the songs comprising 2014’s independent self-titled debut, Hugar.

Originally available as a free download on the group’s official site, a social media buzz organically built around the album with requests for the musicians to perform around the world. At the same time, “Inngangur” clocked over 20 million streams on Spotify and “Felt” crossed the 12-million-mark with Hugar averaging 430K-plus monthly listeners on the platform. Acclaim came from tastemakers such as The Line of Best Fit, The Independent, and more as the guys delivered standout performances at festivals including Iceland Airwaves. Along the way, they began quietly assembling what would become Varða as early as 2014. For the first time, they created out of their own studio.

“There was never a plan to make our first album; it just happened,” continues Bergur. “This time around, we set out to make a record that functioned as a whole piece where everything was related. It’s more polished from beginning to end.”

“The studio enabled us to experiment and explore,” adds Pétur. “We had the freedom to do everything we wanted without barriers. Under normal conditions, you have to rent a studio. We moved at our own pace and learned a lot about being patient and how to work together.”

With this space to explore, they further integrated electronic flourishes, widening the sonic palette. The majority of the sessions took place at night, imbuing a nocturnal energy into the final product.

“We’re obviously very affected by our environment,” admits Bergur. “Recording at night in the summertime when it’s bright is an energy that doesn’t make sense. As a human being, you’re supposed to be awake when it’s light and asleep when it’s dark. When the sun is out all day, you get this weird energy. You’re tired, but you want to keep going. Iceland is an anomaly in general. We have earthquakes, glaciers melting, and avalanches. It’s a ridiculous place to live for man. At the same time, it’s so beautiful that you can’t escape it.”

 

The chilly six minute-plus “Frost” hinges on rhythmic piano with mounting tension as if, “You’re trapped inside of a glacier, and all Hell is breaking loose.” Everything culminates on the massive brass choir of “Land,” yielding a powerful denouement. “It’s like a ship returning home to a harbor after a crazy mission,” elaborates Bergur. “You realize it’s not so good being home because everything is fucked. There’s a double effect. It’s beautifully happy but schizophrenic.”

Outside of Hugar, Bergur collaborated with Sigur Rós on music for NETFLIX’s Black Mirror in addition to engineering the most recent album from the legendary Björk and joining her on tour. In the end, Varða marks the next step on this journey for Hugar.

Pétur leaves off, “I’d love for people to feel an emotional reaction—whether it’s sadness or happiness—when they listen to it.”

“We both bring something unique to this,” concludes Bergur. “It’s an incredible fusion of who we are. That’s what we want to share.”

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