FEB. 26: It is fucking snowing again. This morning, I came downstairs and opened the blinds and no light came in, just that oozing gray that has passed for daytime for most of the last several months in Massachusetts. Yesterday there was blue sky, and I could’ve danced. The days are getting longer, I keep telling myself and The Patient Mrs., looking at the math and almost believing it. We had a little melt this past weekend, so the lowest points of snow are down to about three feet. Piles where the plows have been, in parking lots and places like that, are over 10 feet tall. Some of them look like houses.
They say this isn’t going to accumulate much, but it doesn’t even matter anymore. Snow’s just an excuse to stay inside out of the cold. Another foot. Who cares? I must have been feeling particularly hopeful last night when I took my copy of Sólstafir‘s Ótta upstairs last night to put it on the shelf. The album, which the Icelandic band released last year on Season of Mist, has been an integral soundtrack for this winter to the point where I got so bothered at not having a physical copy of it that I ordered the CD during one of our several blizzards. Yes, deliveries still come, even though from what I hear the trains don’t run anymore.
I had caught wind of Ótta last year, via the usual too-easily-ignored digital promo, and the Reykjavík outfit received heaps of praise around its release, all duly earned. Their fifth full-length, the eight tracks of Ótta make for an hour-long masterpiece of melancholic heft. The lyrics are in Icelandic, but the melody transcends language barriers, and whether it’s the surge near the end of the title-track, which makes for one of the most particularly memorable standout moments, the understated drums of Guðmundur Óli Pálmason grounding the string sounds and keys as vocalist/guitarist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason‘s croons become shouts, or the more frenetic vibe of “Miðdegi,” with Tryggvason‘s and Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson‘s guitars interweaving over a tense bassline from Svavar Austman, the atmosphere remains pervasive. This is true as well as they push through the quiet lushness of the penultimate “Miðaftann.” Just because I’d make a fool out of myself if I tried to pronounce any of it doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.
The ebow to organ shift in 11-minute closer “Náttmál” and the waves of blastbeats that accompany the apex are something special, but for much of Ótta, it’s the softer stretches that create the ambience. Piano and subdued vocals start opener “Lágnætti,” which picks up soon enough but holds firm to a contemplative impression, and the wide spaces crafted by “Rismál” seem to bring to life the unceasing bitterness of winter’s cold. They don’t shout about it. It’s a kind of resignation, to which the subsequent “Dagmál” and “Miðdegi” add further emotional and sonic depth, Sólstafir holding onto a heaviness in sound but making an even more resonant impression with the album’s spiritual weight. To me, it just sounds like this interminable season, and I know that in years to come, that’s how I’ll identify it. Already it has proved a haunting presence.
So much so, that when the snow started to fall this afternoon, I had no choice but to go back upstairs and retrieve the Ótta CD, put it on and make my way toward and through the desperate thrust of “Nón” again. I’m sure it won’t be the last time before the snow melts. Yes, it’s brilliant and progressive and all that other shit “critics” say when they like something, but mostly, I’m glad to have the bit of comfort Sólstafir offer.