Oh-ho ho, man I just got back from a whirlwind trip around the Pacific. You may know that I’ve spent the last year in Korea, and I recently took a vacation to Guam, stopping in Japan on the way. Needless to say the language circuits of my brain are a little fried, having switched abruptly between Korean, Japanese, and English dialect, and sometimes I’m still tempted to order coffee in Korean down at the local shop–obviously to no avail. But this has had me thinking a lot about language and what I may or may not be missing when I try to eavesdrop on that foreign-language conversation around the corner.
That’s why today’s Covers by Lovers features Icelandic ensemble Sigur Rós, a group I admire for, among other things, performing in a language other than English. This is not to say that English is a horrible language or that singing in it has somewhat invidious overtones, but I really do appreciate a band that can do so well in the English-speaking market without actually singing in English. Of course there are other foreign artists who sing in English that I really admire–Peter, Bjorn and John for one, Bjork for another–but it’s nice once in a while to experience something so closely tied to the artists’ homeland and culture–the language.
Sigur Rós’s discography shifts between Icelandic and what is commonly translated as “Hopelandic”–also known as Vonlenska, “a term used to describe the unintelligible lyrics sung by the band.” Though the non-Icelandic-speaking community often loses out on the meaning and thus full impact of the song, a little research into translations can aid in the comprehension of the tone of the song. When all else fails, there is at least one amateur artist who covers these songs in English translation, and some of these covers can be found here today.
To ease into this bilingual escapade, let’s start with one that features no language. This is a simply- but well-done cover of the instrumental part of the song Ágætis Byrjun, from the synonymous album that really helped launch them into international acclaim. It comes from youtube user Markv86, which appears to be the online alias of a member of the band “Hangover Sunday”* The cover stays pretty loyal to the original version, but as Markv86 states on the youtube page, “it’s not 100% accurate.” Oh well, I think that can be chalked up to personalization that comes with the cover territory. Check it out here:
The next song can help my fellow Americans and basically anyone not from Iceland get a little better grasp on the full effect of the music of Sigur Rós. This is a cover of Heysátan, sung in English translation by youtuber TheRoyalRey. Now I know English and Icelandic are related, but much to my chagrin, this song is not titled “Hey Satan!” in English; rather, it means “Stack of Hay,” which becomes apparent with TheRoyalRey’s translation. All in all it’s a good cover. Where the original is heavy on strings, a xylophone, and brass, TheRoyalRey recasts the song into piano and guitar parts, along with vocals. I thought it was a rather creative take on a song with non-traditional pop-music instrumentals. Enjoy it here:
The next cover is also by youtuber TheRoyalRey. It’s an English translation cover of Hoppípolla. The instrumentals again are well done–recreating Sigur Rós’s music with traditional musical instruments. This one also shows a bit of creativity on the part of the author. The video is so interesting. According to the page on youtube, it comes from an 8mm film he found in the woods. What good luck! It fosters in me a sense of resourcefulness and makes me want to create things with the discarded (or perhaps unfortunately lost) relics of another’s life. Watch it here, then go out and find something:
Our last cover today comes from youtuber Brunchman. It’s another cover of Hoppípolla, but this time sung in the original Icelandic. Though the artist appears to be a native speaker of English, it’s nice to see a tribute to an Icelandic band in Icelandic! The video is also noteworthy because it shows the process of creating the work–multi-track vocals, keyboard, and guitar. It gives one an idea of how much work can go into a hobby for the simple love of creating music. It also gives us a look at his technical skill. Brunchman apologizes because “the vocals are extremely boy-bandish” (most likely due to the amount of reverb), but I appreciate them nonetheless. The solo guitar part in the background also adds a nice touch, though it may be a bit boyband-ish as well. In any case, it’s a well-done cover that clearly took weeks to put together, and for that, I share it with you here:
Be sure to check out the originals, too!
Ágætis Byrjun video
Heysátan from the Sigur Rós movie Heima
Hoppípolla from Heima
*end note: I know I’ve said in the past that this blog would only feature amateur covers, so I was on the fence about posting the first cover by Hangover Sunday. I looked at their youtube page, which redirected me to their website and myspace page, which claims they are unsigned. Whether or not they are considered professional or amatuer, I’m going to let it slide today because I really like this cover. Judge for yourself. Also, there’s another cover of doubtful amateur status below, but I enjoyed it so I thought I’d post it anyway. Enjoy!
Gobblidigook, covered by Appledog: