Particularly assiduous fans of singer-songwriter John Grant will already know about Iceland's hottest new export, Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson, and his debut album. Grant, a confirmed polyglot, was asked to do the English translations of the lyrics on Ásgeir's Dýrð í Dauðaþögn, which came out in Iceland last year. At the time, Grant was in Iceland working on his most recent album, Pale Green Ghosts; he later took Ásgeir on tour with him.

The ursine, middle-aged midwesterner and the waiflike, twentynothing Icelander might not seem the most likely candidates for a fanbase overlap, but you can see some simpatico in the combination of straight balladry and tricksy little electronic elements that fills In the Silence. Last year it became the biggest- and fastest-selling record by a home-grown Icelandic artist ever, outranking even blue-chip names like Björk and Sigur Rós. Apparently one in 10 of the population owns a copy. Something about In the Silence is speaking very directly to Icelanders, and One Little Indian – the home of Björk, of course – hope that same something will sing out to an international audience.

In essence, though, In the Silence is a contemplative folktronica record with more than a passing resemblance to Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago – especially if that log cabin came equipped with a piano and a live brass section. All wounded and vulnerable, Ásgeir quavers just like Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. He's then layered to slightly otherworldly effect, a timbre that can't fail to bring to mind Sigur Rós.

As fans of Jónsi, Thom Yorke or James Blake will know, there is something evocative about the male voice when it is throttled to a falsetto, or muted to a ghost of a croon. It's this young-man-lost appeal that drives In the Silence, which pivots on the impression that some great hurt has befallen Ásgeir, whose scraggly beard and thousand-yard stare back up the notion.

Was There More is all hushed strumming and plaintive query. Those who like their tunes to come with a view will enjoy playing Icelandic environment bingo with him. "Far up in the north, the nights can be so dark," goes Head in the Snow, "Biting cold takes its toll on the body…" On In Harmony, Ásgeir is a "soul that floats among the fjords". On That Day rounds off the album with a forthrightness uncharacteristic of the previous nine songs, where the then-19-year-old Ásgeir finally harrumphs: "You don't get to call the shots that way."

Some of these assumptions become abruptly realigned when you discover that the lyricist here is not just Ásgeir himself, but also his father, 72-year-old Einar Georg Einarsson, and one Júlíus Aðalsteinn Róbertsson. These, then, aren't quite the musings of a teenage savant, made prodigiously sombre by some trauma, but something more artful: a concept album in which the impressions of a much older man come through the voice of one much younger. The bruising is secondhand, but not too far removed.

Does this matter? Probably not. In the Silence remains deeply pleasant, if a little polite. It could tempt a mobile phone network looking for a sync for their adverts, but also has more ennobling uses, suffused as it is with a kind of weary serenity.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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