Iceland has birthed some of the most captivating and beautiful artists in the world – Björk and Sigur Rós are prime examples – and is home to some truly stunning music, both in the form of its burgeoning indie scene and with its traditional Nordic folk songs. The sheer calibre of the music has a whole lot to do with the breathtaking surroundings: whether it’s the idyllic landscapes, the towering mountain ranges or the crystal waters. It’s no wonder then that Tunng’s very own Mike Lindsay was struck with inspiration whilst performing at a festival here. He took time away to nestle himself in a cabin-turned-studio near Reykjavik, survey Kinnafjoll – otherwise known as Cheek Mountains – and record his eponymous solo album under the new moniker: Cheek Mountain Thief.
Parading with triumph, opener ‘Cheek Mountain’ builds to a monumental climax over six minutes, layering twinkling glockenspiels with strings, horns and hollow bass drum thwomps. It’s a serenade to the mountain range, and it doesn’t sound too dissimilar to Lindsay’s work with Tunng: there’s an experimental folk aspect which takes centre stage, and the range of instruments clamouring for attention evokes memories of earlier efforts such as ‘Bullets’.
‘Spirit Fight’ is kooky but sweet, with a pitter-patter of raindrop plucking piquing interest from the get-go. There are moments of hot-chocolate-with-marshmallows cosiness, but every now and again the calm is punctuated by math-folk stings of percussion and abrasive strings; what starts out as a rather quaint Disneyfied cut off the album soon turns to a darker place. It’s not a completely depressing twist, but there is definitely mischief afoot.
As many frontmen and women-turned-solo artists will tell you, losing the stigma of your past fame is not an easy task. Previous endeavours will always loom over any new material – just look at the dismal solo career of Patrick Stump or the endless criticism of Kele’s departure from guitar music. Whilst this debut effort from Cheek Mountain Thief does bear similarities to Tunng, Lindsay isn’t forcing change. He’s simply making music as he always has.
There are clear distinctions in the music though. Ambient cut ‘Nothing’ features melancholy violin melodies and sampled speech, presumably found on his Scandinavian trek. ‘Snook Pattern’ bursts in with a drum solo and sombre horns, before diving headfirst into a menacingly twee acoustic-guitar led verse. The bass-driven chorus of sparkling glocks is a delightful exploration of organised chaos. Though some elements have been carried over from his main band, Lindsay makes it clear with his own additions that this ode to Iceland is not Tunng.
The record is a glorious blend of saccharine sweetness and murky darkness, with a strident sense of determination that injects force into the folksy charm. Released on Full Time Hobby – the same as every derivative of Tunng (Diagrams, The Accidentals, Tunng themselves…), Cheek Mountain Thief’s first foray into solo-dom isn’t wholly original, but it certainly excels at bringing the icy awe of Iceland into our minds.
Listen to Cheek Mountain Thief