In Iceland, belief in elves, gnomes and huldufólk (hidden people) is not unusual. Small homes and churches pepper the country's fields and hills, built by citizens looking to provide shelter should any sprites come searching. Development projects are protested on grounds of disrupting elfin populations. A huldufólk blessing is to be cherished, but a curse or grudge is dire.
Iceland's folklore suits it well. A country that spends nine months of each year in wintry conditions, and two months in which the sun sets for the length of a nap — if at all — knows the ways light and dark can live together.
It's from this tradition of contrast that multi-instrumentalist Sóley emerged. Her music is strange and haunting. Her latest video, the appropriately titled "Dreamers," features aurora borealis-inspired visuals, gorgeous and eerie as they draw their forms by sapping hers.
Director Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir told NPR Music this blend was taking the album artwork to Sóley's Ask the Deep further, melting the singer as she performed, and trapping her in a landscape between sleep and waking.
"Dreamers," Sóley wrote in an email, is about
finding a new home to ease my mind, somewhere deep down ... I'm using the ocean as a metaphor for that search, but there's still some doubt. I know I can't entirely escape my fear just by leaving.
In that thinking, Sóley is a perfect product of her home. She's confronting discomfort, steadfast as a Viking, and her weapons are whimsy and surrealism. In a nation co-populated by hidden people, that combination is more than familiar. It's formidable.
Ask the Deep is out now.