Release Date: Out Now
Icelandic alt-pop queen Hafdis Huld has dropped her fifth studio album, ‘Variations’, and it is a collection of covers of her favourites songs which normally I wouldn’t have much time for but I wasn’t aware of this fact before I gave this a listen. And that is a very fortuitous thing as this is an extremely beautiful collection of songs given the unique Hafdis Huld treatment. The album gets underway with Dolly Parton’s ‘The Bargain Store’ which chimes out with a mandolin and the whispy, icy vocal of Huld – about as far from Parton’s warm southern drawl as you can get but with just as much honesty and beauty. Next up is ‘One Moment In Time’ which takes the Whitney Houston classic and breaks it down to an acoustic late night picking session by candlelight and suddenly an 80s power ballad is given renewed fragility and a sense of real desperation which is missing in the more popular version.
Much like a talented mechanic, Hafdis Huld can strip a song down to its basic components, do away with the unnecessary trimmings and then rebuild it with the pure essentials – it is beautiful to behold. The third song on this collection, ‘I Want To Break Free’, is a great example of this talent as the John Deacon penned Queen classic emerges nervously from the shadows of its original shell as a timid but quietly determined song that hangs around a piano line that breaks me every time. ‘Songs of Love’ (aka the Father Ted theme) is given a new impish quality while Barry White has never sounded so light and airy as Huld’s version of ‘You’re My First, My Last, My Everything’ makes him sound – like Nina Persson serenading your parents at the renewal of their vows.
Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’ would work brilliantly at a wedding under this treatment with a country inspired melody and some sumptuous atmospherics. In fact, most of the songs on this collection would work well alongside nuptuals or a John Lewis ad, not least Huld’s version of the Roberta Flack ballad ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. Things take a slightly darker turn on ‘Here Comes the Rain Again’ as the Eurythmics classic is given a sparse working over and then ‘Slow Learner’ by Boo Hewerdine takes us to that point just as dawn is breaking and the truths of the night are settling all around you like snowflakes on a lawn.
Now, education time for me – I had no idea that Giorgio Moroder was behind the classic Berlin power-ballad ‘Take My Breath Away’ but he is. Huld’s take on this one has a real feel of the First Aid Kits about it and it’s just beautiful – a word that doesn’t do this anywhere near justice. I’ve heard a few versions of Haddaway’s ‘What Is Love?’ but never have I heard one given the Florece + the Machine treatment like this and it works so well that you could be forgiven for thinking this song came from Iceland.
The album closes with a pair of songs that encapsulate the energy here perfectly. First up, ‘You to me are Everything’ gets the banjo treatment and you just feel the love oozing out of the headphones like sunshine through a morning window. Secondly, Loudon Wainwright III’s ‘The Swimming Song’ has a sense of playfulness and pure joy at its heart that is hard, nay, impossible to resist. Hafdis Huld is a talented songwriter and performer in her own right, there is no doubt in that, but on this album she has recorded a collection of songs that she loves for herself and that comes pouring out of every note, every word and every melody. Do yourself a favour and get a copy of this to lift your spirits – its perfect for a Saturday morning while you’re making pancakes, speaking from experience.
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