String-driven Icelandic quartet make an album of gently pulsing birdsong. Exquisite...
Paul Sullivan 2007
Icelandic quartet Amiina conjure up dreamy, melodic soundscapes suffused with the fairytale mysticism and undulating landscapes of their native…hang about, haven’t we heard all this before?
Indeed we have. Iceland’s musicians – who seem, curiously, to number more than the actual population - seem fated to have their music endlessly described in terms of their physical and cultural landscape.
Intricate melodies are weaved by ‘mischievous elves’; abstract moods are ‘glacial’; anything featuring heavy beats or blistering basslines is like an ‘erupting volcano’ or a ‘tectonic rift’.
Yet to listen to Kurr, the debut album from Amiina - a talented all-female four piece who have been experimenting with music together since meeting at Reykjavík’s College of Music in the 1990s – is to be somehow transported to their homeland.
Part of the reason perhaps is that the album is reminiscent of other Icelandic acts we know and love. You may, on listening to Kurr, recognize the guileless experimentation of Björk, the melodic whimsies of Múm and the emotive introspection of Sigur Rós (whom Amiina accompanied on tour between 2005 and 2006).
But there are major differences. Kurr (revealingly, the Icelandic word for birdsong) holds no truck with rhythmic complexity, artful aesthetics, nor high, ineffable drama. Theirs is a pure, irenic vision that unfurls serenely via a veritable wonderland of instrumentation, everything from violins, guitars and keyboards to wine glasses, bells, metalophones, Celtic harps, water glasses, musical saws, glockenspiels and kalimbas.
The resultant sound is not, as you might expect, clanky kitchen-sink experimentalism; rather, Kurr is a gently rippling stream of enigmatic moods and textures. The individual tracks, though readily identifiable (“Rugla” is uplifting, childlike, “Glamur” is decidedly languorous, “Seoul” pretty and innocent) fit together so organically you’d swear it was one long soundtrack.
It might be tempting for some to dismiss Kurr as fey, maudlin even. But waging journalistic war on a record as tranquil as this would - to borrow a memorable simile from the late Kurt Vonnegut Jr. – be akin to putting on a full suit of armour and attacking an ice cream sundae.
A crime far worse, surely, than quixotic metaphor.