I’m used to hearing all shades of country and Americana from Great Britain, Europe and Scandinavia, but this is a first. A self-styled Folk & Roll duo from Iceland, Bellstop are Rúnar Sigurbjörnsson and Elín Ólafsdóttir and this, following five years living in China, where they self-released their debut, is their sophomore album and the first to get wider exposure.
Working with a pianist and rhythm section, but based largely around acoustic guitars, often with a traditional folk feel, and singing in English, it’s something of a mixed bag, stylistically and musically. It kicks off with ‘Trouble’, a choppy stomp rhythm folk blues that was used for the ad campaign for The Originals, a spin-off from The Vampire Diaries, and a Canadian mountain biking video. You can hear how it would suit both. Elin’s voice operatically soaring, it also has an interesting touch of the Buffy Sainte-Marie tribal vocals to it and there’s a fair few world music colours in evidence throughout. ‘Landið Mitt’, for example, incorporates a cocktail of Spanish flamenco and Gregorian plainsong as well as the Native American feel of the Elin’s wordless chants while the playout guitar is evocative of ‘Forever Changes’ era Love. Indeed, Arthur Lee’s classic outfit also looms large over ‘Red’, at least until it turns into a heavy blues towards the end. There’s plenty of blues influences elsewhere, ‘Mister’ hitting funky Southern blues rock trail and ‘Run’ suggesting Led Zep riffing whereas ‘Ravens’ hews more to Neil Young. On the quieter side of the tracks, ‘Moving On’ has a folk country edge as do the slow waltzing acoustic ‘Friends In High Places’ and ‘Daylight’. There’s also some nimble fingerpicking on the catchy Elin-led mid-tempo ballad ‘Theme War’.
The simpler, acoustic numbers are good (although, having said that, ‘God Given Right’ is a mess, both musically and lyrically), but they’re at their most interesting when they let rip and throw all manner of textures and sounds into the pot. Things do tail off in the second half of the album and some of the songs simply aren’t that memorable, but there’s more than enough here to intrigue, excite and warrant investigation.
‘Moving On’ – official video: