Written by Erica Andreozzi
Meeting the AMAZING ICELANDIC BAND who I hope will ALWAYS BE FAMILY, Kiriyama Family. I was hooked HARD ever since I saw them at Secret Solstice Festival in June 2017 and could not WAIT to see them again at Iceland Airwaves Music Festival that same year. They dropped my jaw to the ground once again at Airwaves and had me flailing my hands in the air like a madwoman. Formed back in 2012 by core members Karl Bjarnarson (vocals, guitar, bass and keys), Guđmudur Jónsson (guitar, bass and keys), Viđir Björnsson (guitar, bass and keys) and Bassi Ólafsson (drums and percussion), keyboarder Bjarni Ævar Árnason and vocalist Hulda Kristín were added in 2014 to complete this phenomenal six-piece family we see today. All six are fantastic musicians in their own right, but know how to play their instruments and each others (known for several swapping during the set), proving they really do have that THE CHEMISTRY that they sing so proud and loud in their hit track track ‘Chemistry‘: “I’m not imagining this chemistry… so why don’t you just come with me.” We are surely not imagining it either. This chemistry is as real as it gets. You also don’t have to imagine the euphoria that they are feeling up there on stage, the pure joy that they have connecting with one another (they are all very close friends) and connecting with the audience who they welcome so comfortable with their down-to-earth demeanor and effortless, engaging charm.
Combining nostalgic 1980s synth pop with late 1970’s yacht/jazz rock and modern-day atmospheric, progressive rock, the band serves up a tasty experimental genre courtesy of their own “family recipe.” Armed with an array of synthesizers, guitar, and bass, Kiriyama Family combines influences of Steely Dan, Arcade Fire, Tame Impala, and M83, into a sounds that makes them stand out from many other bands I have seen (and I have seen THOUSANDS). They are a band where I am truly at a lost to find any sort of comparison (which is ALWAYS a good thing). Even more impressive are the gorgeous vocal harmonies of Hulda and Karl that will lather you in chills the instant you hear them. These harmonies are especially strong in ‘Innocence,’ one of their stand-out tracks that was #1 on Icelandic Music charts when it was first released. Check out a video below, where you can hear me shout “This one is the shit.” 🙂
Hulda’s powerhouse pipes will make you impulsively WAIL OUT LOUD to the catchy chorus as if no one was watching (at least I did, with carotid’s bulging out of my neck): “You’re looking for an answer, and try to dig deeper But you can’t always get higher lord … oh, my innocence is gold, I’ve got to wake up from this silliness, I’m not right for this. ” What’s interesting is that this catchy chorus follows a particularly pensive intro (some of my favorite Kiriyama Family lyrics) that really embody the contant self-talk most of us battle: “I was deluded to say that, you could never find your preferable self. Seeing as it’s just a matter of perspective and you are the observer of own point of view. But just remember to relax, nothing is for certain and you will never pass as anything worth mentioning if you never step out of your comfort zone.” Stepping out of your comfort zone is my main modus operandi, and I often try and remind myself that “you are only as good as your boldest experiment.” I always do appreciate the reminder, especially when sung by such soothing vocals. Other beautiful vocals can be heard in their lovely (#1 on their Spotify) love song ‘About You‘ (video below): “But now i only focus on one thing to help me set the pain aside, just a little something that’s more beautiful then i dear to describe… oh, there’s something about you.. I wanna be the one who sets fire to your heart.” My heart! ❤
Then there’s ‘Weekend,’ a funky, chill track showcasing Bassi’s perky percussion and Karl’s once again thought-provoking lyrics: “And all of my friends got lost in the sands of time and doubts, as soon as the waves crashed down.” ‘Bassi’s tight rhythmic drumming also kicks off ‘Lightyears Away,’ a track that starts off slow but picks up speed in stride with the urgency of Hulda’ eager impatience for her love: “There is nothing I would rather do than sit here with you… but I’m a million light-years away from you.” Another favorite is ‘Apart,’ (video below) featuring a happy hypnotic keyboard intro (courtesy of Guðmundur) and deep, funky bass (thank you Viđir) that does in fact “catch you off guard” when you learn the lyrics are not so happy: “All I can say is that we’re meant to be apart… And all I can do is hope that you don’t catch my heart off guard.” A final favorite (though I love them all) from the collection is ‘Anywhere But Here,’ which takes us on a exhilarating journey of groovy twists and turns that pair perfectly with the capricious call-and-response vocals between Karl (“sometimes you feel like all of our dreams are drifting away while we’re blinking, but I won’t let that happen on my watch…”) and Hulda (“don’t say that”). One of the most intriguing parts is when Karl responds to Hulda’s (don’t say that”) with “It’s Oh darling don’t get me started, I’m a changed man.”
It’s true that “We could be anywhere by here,” but do we really want to be? I think not. In fact, there is no where I would rather be than at their Saturday night Iceland Airwaves set. This is the family moment I have been “Waiting for,” and such a perfect name to their upcoming sophomore album to be release this spring. Mad props to their awesome manager Jeff Rude who keeps me up to speed with this fantastic family. 🙂