SOMEONE WAS MISSING when the fanciful Icelandic group Gus Gus stopped in Seattle last week. Not long before the start of its American tour, on the very day that the group released its new record, This Is Normal, singer Hafdis Huld bowed out. In a collectively run band with nine members, you wouldn't think that the absence of one person would make that much difference. After all, Gus Gus production whiz Biggi Thorarinsson doesn't tour, and from an audience point of view, it's never mattered.
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But 19-year-old Huld was one of Gus Gus' three lead vocalists and the group's only woman. While the other two singers, Magnus Johanson and Daniel Agust, are capable of holding a crowd's attention, it's Huld—with her elfin face and hyperkinetic pogo dancing—who stuck in everyone's brains after Gus Gus' Seattle debut a couple of years ago. In a short time, she grew from a mainly decorative fixture to a strong vocal presence. This Is Normal showcases her frosty, crystalline voice on songs like "Superhuman" (which contains now-ironic lines like "Leave now/You'll recover from that").
Without Huld, Gus Gus couldn't perform "Superhuman" last week—or "Teenage Sensation," another of her moments on the new record—and it may be a few months before it returns to form. Her absence mutes the group's unique contrasts—its ability to balance light and dark, cold and warm textures. Its Seattle show was more sweaty drum circle by firelight than breezy starlit mountaintop.
Yet the remaining members of Gus Gus are nothing if not dedicated to entertaining. With a new set of films and sloganeering text projected behind the stage, there was certainly no shortage of visual interest. It's lucky that Agust was the vocalist on the new single "Ladyshave," since it's a highlight of their retooled set. For the show's climax, however, Gus Gus returned to the elastic Polydistortion track "Believe." Behind stacks of effects, Alfred More and Herb Legowitz elongated the song, bouncing it through different instrumental hoops before Agust came back with the refrain "Ain't no Jesus/But I'm close to him."
"The spaces within the group are big enough to serve everybody's goals and outputs," Agust opined in an interview before Huld's departure. "There's enough elbow room for each and every one to do what they like." But being a good 14 years younger than her oldest bandmates, Huld must've fought some battles. Over the phone a couple of months ago, she described a typical disagreement: "You get comments like [putting on a gruff, stodgy tone], 'But we're older, with more experience, so we know.'" And I'm like, "OK, but there must be a reason for me working with you guys, so I think you should listen to me."
Huld's gee-whiz, adolescent ebullience in conversation was a bit disconcerting after hearing her composed singing. She fretted over her English (which is actually very good), raved about Lauryn Hill, Burt Bacharach, and Icelandic opera singers, and mentioned that her favorite thing about touring America was shopping malls. She also said that her main ambition was to become an actress. Perhaps she left to pursue this goal. Or maybe she just got tired of compromising. Either way, Gus Gus fans will miss her.