“Don’t wanna hide no more in the dark”. Icelandic alternative-pop trio Vok (Margrét Rán Magnúsdóttir, Andri Már Enoksso and Einar Hrafn Stefánsson) created a nocturnal soundscape on their debut record Figure. Romantic poetry to downtempo indie pop music that imagined shadowy kisses and lonesome long walks in the midst of night time snow. The construction and production of their songs, dejected lyrics and black-clothed gender-skewing image drew similarities with The xx. So, with the release of their follow-up just two years later entitled In The Dark upon us, have these Icelanders developed their own identity and have they stepped away from the darkness?
Self-titled opener ‘In the Dark’ immediately suggests a new direction in sound and discusses the light vs. dark idea. Lead singer Margrét Rán Magnúsdóttir’s vocal is a mix Haim and MØ as it guides listeners through what appears to be bouncy, accessible and friendly atmosphere. The lyrics though suggest otherwise, as they have the making of a horror flick. The protagonist is having paranoid hallucinations, as she sees “a creature in the making is taking a shape. It’s a form that I’ve seen before.”
However, bare in mind that Vök use a lot of metaphors, Magnúsdóttir follows those descriptive lines with: “I better toughen up, get this under control. Cause there’s nothing in the shadows, nothing is there,” and that the album ends with a track entitled ‘Out of the Dark’. Then it seems this record is actually about first acknowledging the difficult times when you’re sinking in a dark pit of sorrow and then eventually digging yourself out and reaching towards daylight.
‘Autopilot’ and ‘Night and Day’ continues their radio-friendly compositions and writing technique of metaphors, with the former uses slightly tacky flight symbolism with lines such as “You say you’re in control. But you’re waiting to fly”. They both contain Vök’s signature woozy synths and tales of romantic addiction. The latter’s hopeless romantic character is quite self-assertive, conceited and possessive but also understandably desperate to cose up with a girlfriend during Iceland’s freezing months: “As the air is turning colder. As the light is getting dark. You feel the frost that comes with dawn. I will give you my whole world. And I know it for a fact, you will be mine.”
In The Dark’s most catchy track is undoubtedly ‘Spend The Love’. It’s the most dance-orientated of their discography so far. Which isn’t a bad thing as it pairs toe-tapping bass with their aforementioned woozy electronics to great effect. It’s mainstream polished but well-calculated, with everything from the vocals, lyrics and music gelling well together. With it being a club-ready anthem which could propel Vök to further success, the content is fittingly about money and consumerism and contains the rather ironic words: “Sell yourself to know your worth. Don’t act like this is something you haven’t heard”.
Vök’s latest record is not all good though. ‘Scarcity’, despite it’s subtle Hawaiian vibe, feels flat and forgettable and even though ‘Erase You’ contributes to the record’s internal struggles concept with it’s interesting Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind philosophy, musically it disappointingly misfires. Especially with it’s ineffective onomatopoeia idea and poorly executed chorus.
However, the last chapter of In The Dark – like the final minutes in predecessor Figure – leaves the album in a gorgeous mellow glow. Beginning with the hypnotic instrumental interlude ‘Rooftop Views’, continuing with the smooth Jamie Isaac-like piano-meets-trumpet soul ‘Fantasy’, before climaxing with its extended reprise ‘Out of The Dark.’
There’s plenty for Vök to improve, including the lyrics which can be overwhelming cliche at times and if the tracks were lengthened it would improve their immersive potential. Nonetheless, it’s safe to say they are getting better in establishing an identity away from the earlier The xx comparisons.