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Reykjavik, Iceland

Going to Reykjavík by The Mountain Goats

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I checked my reflection in the rain
There were voices on the wind
Winter coming on in
Rooftops in Reykjavik
(thanks, The Lorax)
Hailing from Claremont, California, indie band The Mountain Goats is known for their lo-fi home-recordings and John Darnielle's soft, bleating vocals. Their series of Going to... songs feature on numerous albums from the militantly lo-fi ‘90s recordings to the more polished releases of the 21st Century. “Going to Reykjavík” from the 1996 album Nothing for Juice is definitive of their love affair with lo-fi.

“Going to Reykjavík” is one of four Going to... songs on Nothing for Juice, the third studio album by The Mountain Goats. The album is raw, the chords are simple and the guitar playing anything but virtuosic. And yet Darnielle manages to convey complex emotions, especially those of love and desire. The band takes the listener on a wandering journey from Kansas to Bogota, north to Scotland, and then into the Arctic, to the world's northernmost capital: Reykjavík.

Going to Reykjavík feels a bit like going to the Moon, the volcanic version. The landscape is bleak; snow capped mountains rise abruptly out of black basalt fields and the vegetation is so sparse it's little wonder the standing joke is that, should you get lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up. Located on the southwest coastline of Iceland, Reykjavík is believed to be the first permanent settlement established by Vikings in 870 AD, and it's not hard to imagine horn-helmeted warriors charging around the coastline with battle axes raised, their blood-curdling screams issuing forth from bearded throats. Home to 120 000 people - almost half of Iceland's total population - Reykjavík is a small but cosmopolitan city. Nestled on the Atlantic coast between lava fields and ice topped volcanoes, this harsh environment is home to brightly painted, vari-colored wooden homes and locals who are quiet but friendly.
The main street in downtown Reykjavik
(thanks, Fingalo)
Home of the midnight sun in summer and near total darkness in winter, beneath a night sky lit up by shuddering aurorae, this city at the top of the world has an air of mystery about it and could be nothing but inspiring. “I start writing, pull whatever images happen to occur to me, and make up a story,” says Darnielle. Although this says little about his choice of locations for his Going to... series, the lyrics of “Going to Reykjavík” hint at inspiration drawn from the notoriously changeable weather and austere natural surroundings, with lines like, “there were voices on the wind, winter coming on in.” But the lyrics are also typical of The Mountain Goats, sometimes random, often cryptic, always a little odd. “Going to Reykjavík” begins with coffee from Thailand, includes a passage about boiling and drinking milk, and ends with a dripping maw. The lyrics are, however, secondary to the guitar, gently strummed throughout the song while the vocals crackle in the background as if played separately on a scratchy old LP, complete with moments of distortion.

“Going to Reykjavík” reflects the quiet spirit of the city from which it takes its name, and serves as a reminder that beauty doesn't always have to be a bright, shiny thing, polished and gilded. The beauty of this song, like the beauty of Reykjavík, exists in the rough and raw, in the deliberately inelegant stylings contrary to an era of recordings often too clean, too perfect, and thus somewhat less authentic than Darnielle's lo-fi simplicity. ~ Suzanne van Rooyen

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include
Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.

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