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.