Leave it to a group from Iceland to put out one of the more interesting takes on Americana country music this year. While groups like Sigur Ros and former labelmates Múm are grabbing all of the attention, there are still surprisingly a quality number of artists on the small island creating some darn interesting music. Sharing members with the electro-whatever group Trabant (who also released an album in Moment Of Truth this year), The Funerals sound create music that sounds like it was inspired by locking a bunch of people in a cabin for a drunk weekend and seeing what they would churn out (which is indeed how this recording came about).
A touch Palace Music, a touch Patsy Cline, and a touch Sixteen Horsepower, The Funerals play slow-paced porch-sittin' music with both an underlying feel of darkness and a sly sense of humor. One of the main influences for the groups songs may have been the breakup of a relationship, but they're not above singing about why they dislike teenagers or their favorite bar on earth either. The first track of "Puppy Eyes" provides the perfect overview, mixing a slightly melancholy arrangement with the chorus vocals of "You've got puppy eyes for me." Like the opening line of the same track, "You're so cute/when your heart is broken," they mix a swill of happiness with a splash of sadness for tracks that reflect the turbulence of life.
Despite most of the tracks on the disc keeping a fairly slow tempo, the group wisely changes things up just enough to keep things interesting. "Pathetic Me" is just what the title states, a woe-is-me wheezer with a slightly upbeat pace, while "Saturday Friend" takes on the drunken swagger (and rough vocal style) of a Tom Waits track. Following that track up is "Rain & Snow," a minimal, atmospheric track that highlights the beautiful vocals of one Lara Sveinsdottir (who is the sister of the keyboardist for Sigur Ros). That last point actually brings up one of the other great things about the release, which is that the group changes up vocalists quite often, keeping things fresh. One moment there will be lovely female vocals, and the next there are gruff ramblings coming from one of the scruffy males in the group.
It's not often you find yourself giggling along with a somber country track, but I was doing such when the aforementioned "Teenagers" rolled around, as male/female vocalists sing of being frightened by loud, pushy, and horny teenagers as a quiet lament. Such is the simple beauty of the group. While they're not doing anything extraordinary that nobody else has done, their rough enthusiasm and lack of pretension gives the slightly warm-hiss recordings (laid-down a two-track recorder in the countryside) a rather immediate feel which studio polish and fake sincerity can't offer. The next time you're knocking one back and feeling a bit sorry for yourself (no matter how trite the reason), The Funerals will be there for you.