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Album Review

Even though Benedikt H. Hermannsonn comes from Iceland, the warmly melancholic indie pop he plays with his group Benni Hemm Hemm has much more to do with American acts Neutral Milk Hotel or Sufjan Stevens than compatriots Björk or Sigur Rós. With his acoustic guitar and voice backed by horns, drums, glockenspiel, and harmonium, Hermannsonn plays songs that speak of love and isolation using natural and meteorological imagery: hills, rain, snow, sun, and wind. All in Icelandic, of course, which gives an element of novelty, of exoticness, to otherwise fairly typical lo-fi indie pop. Because, despite the relatively obscure language they're sung in, the tracks on Kajak, the band's second full-length, are not much more than pretty, occasionally interesting (like when acoustic guitar and percussion band noisily together on the opening of "Stoffer"), with drawn-out, repeating lines, slurred whole notes and major scales. The album is nice, in that summery background kind of way, but nothing is overly catchy or makes you want to sing — or at the least, hum — along. Hermannsonn's voice is mildly expressive, but not resonant, and though the songs never drag, the endless layering, the lullaby- or round-like melodies, and the shift in dynamics, can get a bit monotonous, or at least work to relegate Kajak to the backdrop. That's not to say Benni Hemm Hemm doesn't hold some appeal: there's certainly something touching in the quavering delivery, the rustling drums, the picked chords, but it comes only in moments — in the first bars of "Snjórljóssnjór," when the horns enter in "Skvavars," in the aggression in "Sól á Heyhóla" — and can't, unfortunately sustain itself throughout the record's entirety.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Benni Hemm Hemm, the Icelandic indie pop band fronted by Benedikt H. Hermannsson, first began to take root when Hermannsson, after a limited release of his solo SummerPlate EP in 2003, moved to Italy for a few months and began to write a new batch of songs. With a full band, including trumpet, bass, and flügelhorn, Benni Hemm Hemm issued their self-titled full-length debut on Iceland's Smákökurnar Records in September 2005, with reissues in Japan, Europe, and North America coming the following year...
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Kajak, Benni Hemm Hemm
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