Sunday, 30 November 2014

A Long Time Listening (To Your Heart)

From dark waters of tragedy to the bright white light of love and beyond

By Grant Nicol                                                                                                 

The first time I saw Agent Fresco live it was a Friday evening in a hostel in Reykjavík and don’t get me wrong, they were good but they didn’t steal my heart. That night. It wasn’t until I saw them much more recently at Iceland Airwaves that I finally ‘got’ them. And boy, did I ‘get’ them then. The magic that surrounds this band is nothing short of amazing.

The task of connecting

Agent Fresco are Arnór Dan Arnarson on vocals, Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson on drums, Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson on bass and Þórarinn Guðnason on guitars and keyboards. Their first single was 2008’s “Eyes Of A Cloud Catcher” which was written about Arnór Dan’s family gathering at his father’s death bed. Arnór Dan was six years old at the time. It’s not unusual for musicians to write songs about a great loss in their lives. What is extraordinary is the ease with which Arnór Dan approaches this task on stage. The task of connecting.

Some singers wear their hearts on their sleeves. Arnór Dan hands his to the crowd and watches it as it’s passed around the room amalgamating with the other souls present. The night I saw them his affection for the audience lit up the room like a supernova at its standard candle mark. And it was repaid. Tenfold. Back at you, Arnór Dan. He makes the job look ridiculously easy and for him it probably is. That’s why he’s doing what he does

Take my hand

“Eyes Of The Cloud Catcher” was followed up by a second single, “Translations” along with a full-length release, ‘A Long Time Listening’ in 2010 and then the title track from the album in 2011. The song, “A Long Time Listening” is where Agent Fresco really hit their straps showcasing their unique power-rhythm section of bass player Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson and drummer Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson. It is Hrafnkell’s drumming in particular that sets their sound apart from other local rock bands. The unorthodox poly-timing and staccato precision brilliantly counterpoints Arnór Dan’s emotional floating vocals.

The choruses are anthems designed to be sung along with. “A Long Time Listening” in particular begs to be mimicked by the crowd as the song powers through its chord structure and allows the chorus to roll over the top of it all. Underneath it all Hrafnkell’s drumming urges us to never forget that this is rock. To be played fast and hard. There is a pace to be kept up with here and to falter even for a moment would to be left behind. And yet it is never allowed to become predictable or heaven forbid, easy.

Mourning light

2014’s “Dark Water” heralds a new phase for the band. The production is huge and clear, the piano urgent and teasing. Arnór Dan’s vocals are once again a plaintive call to join the band on its quest for emotional integrity. This is not music to be merely listened to, it is music to be absorbed. In the same way that their show at Airwaves was much more than just an opportunity to have a good time, and I can assure you that everyone did just that, it was an opportunity to do something more.

It was a chance to embrace the collective ambition of a group of people not content with just having another great night out at Gaukurinn. It was an opportunity to revel in each other’s presence at a special moment in space and time. Arnór Dan revealed that his favourite ever Airwaves memory was getting the crowd at NASA to sing “Eyes Of The Cloud Catcher” for them. So at just before 3a.m in the huddled confines of Gaukurinn they gave it another shot. When the time came for the collected mass of humans to take over they did so with such gusto that the band were left with no option but to cede complete control and walk away from their own creation. A dream was realised as the song continued long after their departure from the stage leaving them fulfilled and yours truly reeling from the beauty of it all.

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