Benni Hemm Hemm Kajak

[Morr Music; 2007]

Styles: Icelandic pomp, sunny day mountain climbing, snoring brass
Others: Super Furry Animals, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Sigur Rós

Previously, Benni Hemm Hemm’s Benedikt H. Hermannsson won you over with his earnest iterations of charm. Sickly sweet almost to the point of questioning the validity of it all (are we too skeptical when we suspect perhaps he’s just being flippant?), Benni Hemm Hemm gloriously orchestrated their lo-fi pop sensibilities into soaring mantras. 2006 saw the release of the Icelandic band’s eponymous debut, adorned with cheeky cuts such as “I Can Love You In A Wheelchair Baby” and “Fight.” They were as lovably genuine as they were frivolous. It’s that sort of sneakily snarky undertone clothed in sweetness that made Hermannsson and his collaborators as amiable and they were listenable. As a follow-up to that enigma, Kajak removes most of the doubt: Hermannsson just has a really sunny personality.

The record is sung entirely in Icelandic, so initially the meaning is lost on untrained ears. Thank heavens for the internet; a translation provides that the majority of the first half of the album circles around a romantic voyage of a couple of crazy, chin-biting lovers up a snowy hillside into the mountains. Images of yellow grass and chapped lips float by as gently as the music itself. It’s cute, harmless, and unfortunately not much more. It floats, with little resonance and few memorable qualities. Hermannsson plays it safe, not even letting his own voice crack over the yarns he spins.

Each song bleeds into the next, and even as background music for stuffing envelopes in an assembly line it’s exceedingly dull. The album ends before any significant developments even begin, with minimal highlights (such as the symphonic collision near the end of “Ég á bát”) worth mentioning. Kajak trades in hooks for unyielding horn blasts and lackadaisical guitar strums. In essence, the barter’s price tag is pop songs for yawns. Recorded in a scant four days, Kajak sounds not so much unlike an afterthought. Either Hermannsson didn’t intend for that outcome or he’s discovered a clever new method for his sass.

In a word: underwhelming.

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