Hjaltalin, Mono Stereo shine bright at London’s Hoxton Square (11/11)


    Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen is an unlikely sounding venue for live music, but this November evening it was as cool inside as it was out. The North London habitat had been invaded by Swedes and Icelanders, as well as many curious locals anxious to sample two bands from decidedly more northerly regions. It was certainly a good night to meet blondes.

    The recently Listen’ed Swedish four-piece Mono Stereo kicked things off. Their intense brand of guitar music has been rightly applauded for how seamlessly they combine late 60’s psychedelia and 90’s shoegaze. However, The question was always going to be how well the dreamy subtleties of their sound would come across in a live context. The band hit the ground running with “I See Them Coming”, all driving riffs and rock solid rhythm. The new single “Me And My Machine” went on to provide a first insight into Mono Stereo’s forthcoming debut album. It’s a hypnotic, riff-laden tune with shades of early Who about it, decorated with glistening lead guitar. To describe this as a wine tasting, you might also be getting Bowie, Pistols, and a hint of Oasis. All good things, then.

    The intricacies of the guitar interplay in “On And On” are a little lost in the wall of sound mix, but the pleasing sitar effect at least cuts through now and again. Drummer Jakub Christensen took charge on this song, trading vocals with his brother and lead singer Geggan. The duo demonstrated a certain understanding that only comes from being brothers. The song was followed by its B-side, “A Matter Of Confusion”. This opens like a Kasabian track, but comes into its own with the spacey guitar fest that takes up the second half.


    Photo by Debbie Lorraine

    The band played a tight, seven song set, including a couple of new songs. “Last Time” is a definite standout, with echoes of early Floyd and Hawkwind signalling a retro feel that gets brought up to date through the urgency of the playing. The phased guitar was blissful. All in all, Mono Stereo turned in a very solid set. The band would have benefited from a better mix – it was a bit too full on and relentless. This masks the subtleties of the music and lessens the dynamics. Mono Stereo could also do with adding a bit of stagecraft to ratchet up the excitement. Still, they are a highly promising band we should be hearing more of.

    Photo by Debbie Lorraine

    Hjaltalin is an eccentric looking 7-piece band from Reykjavik, Iceland with consistently engaging music. A conventional guitar, keys, bass, and drums setup is unusually augmented by bassoon and violin. The male/female vocals are particularly strong and versatile. Unfortunately, much of the violin and some of the bassoon were lost in the mix this evening.

    The Icelanders rarely faltered during their ten song set. Their music is a heady mix of jazz, pop, and easy listening, with more than a share of prog and orchestral moments. The arrangements are unconventional and difficult to predict; changes of tempo come thick and fast, and there’s a sense that it may start to sound a whole lot more cohesive when one is more familiar with the band’s work. For now, it’s interesting musically and visually colourful. The opening song cemented this feeling of what can be coming next. An sub-orchestral build was followed by an episodic piece that takes in a spectrum of set pieces from a half-spoken vocal to a jazz-funk rhythmic ending. Imagine an avant-garde James Bond theme and you’re not that far from “Suitcase Man”.


    On “Sweet Impressions”, singer-guitarist Högni opened with an earnestly throaty tone that immediately recalls Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile, though the singer’s lank blond hair may be more Rick Wakeman. The Yes connection is apt too, because there are times when the band puts you in mind of the legendary 70’s proggers. However, that doesn’t explain the disco feel that takes over in the second half.

    The Yes factor is also present n the playing of bassist Guðmundur Óskar.  On “A Bag Lady” especially he plays with that fluid lead style, reminiscent of Chris Squire. There is a strong pop feel to much of the band’s set evidenced by songs like “Hooked On Chilli” and the Belle & Sebastian like “Traffic Music”. “Sonnet For Matt” provides a contrast as a quieter song where Högni exercises his falsetto which is somewhere between Peter Gabriel and Chris Martin.

    The encore “Feels Like Sugar” sees female vocalist, Sigga, taking the lead. She has an impassioned style, at times a bit Kate Bush sings cabaret but generally straying closer to musical theatre and big balladry. Sigga has a sweet girlie tone when she needs it but mostly sings her heart out, like here. It’s a strong song to finish a set delivered with pride and passion from an outfit that are decidedly different from your average white band.


    Mono Stereo setlist
    I See Them Coming
    Me And My Machine
    On And On
    A Matter Of Confusion
    Last Time
    The Day Before Science Fiction
    Tambourine Dream

    Hjaltalin setlist
    Suitcase Man
    Sweet Impressions
    A Bag Lady
    Hooked On Chilli
    Stay By You
    Sonnet For Matt
    New Song (Unnamed)
    Traffic Music
    7 Years
    Year Of The Horse
    Feels Like Sugar

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