Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s selection, featured on the Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, is “Two Lights” by Borko from the 2012 album Born to Be Free on Sound of a Handshake / Kimi Records.
While his first album as Borko took six years to record (2008’s Celebrating Life), and his latest another four, Iceland’s Björn Kristiansson has been active in the Reykjavik music community all along — as a contributing member to other bands, as a music composer for dance, theater and film, and as a primary school music teacher. Whereas he’s usually behind the kit with other bands, like his current ecstatic drumming (and rapping!) gig with FM Belfast (see him with that band here) or previously with the husband-wife led group Skakkamanage and the short-lived Rúnk, as Borko, Björn Kristiansson is free to explore the lush, dark side of pop. His recent release, Born To Be Free, is on the surface an easy listen. The richly produced melodies are calm and enveloping, if a bit moody. Horns and strings blend seamlessly with per-programmed textures and electric guitars. Kristiansson’s lyrical lines are full of hooks, and despite occasional breakdowns and time changes, the songs always return to familiar patterns.
But it’s Borko’s lyrics themselves that are just a bit off, ranging from slightly quirky to downright absurd. So begins track one of the album: “Open your mouth, show me your teeth / it’s all part of who you are.” The comical stripping down of one’s persona that follows is really the method of the album itself, but things are rarely made bare so much as shown to be not what they seem. “Born to be free,” he goes on to sing, “run, skip and flee,” simultaneously expressing a sense of giddiness and terror. The album’s fourth track, “Two Lights,” gradually delves into surreality, as more straightforward lines like “Wake up early and / smell the glory, feel the blaze”, become more improbable: “lick the lion’s head / smear the shoeshine on your face / throw away the boat.” The instrumentation, meanwhile, crescendos with strings, horns and swirling electronics into a chaos of noise. It’s all very satisfying, weird but satisfying.
Right now, you’ll have to visit Iceland to see Borko live. They just performed a record release concert at KEX Hostel, where we also filmed them earlier this month during Iceland Airwaves (look for videos soon). Any reason to go to Iceland is a good one, but until you do go, head over to Borko’s website and Facebook page for more music and information, and check out the video for the title track to Born to Be Free: