The one-time Battles frontman brings his collaborative performance piece to the studio
Electronic trio Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir (clarinet), Þórður Kári Steinþórsson (electronics) and Jófríður Ákadóttir (vocals) cite Aphex Twin, Tricky, Bjork and Wu-Tang Clan as just some of the artists that helped shape the sound of Samaris – a sound which is both thought-provoking and serene.
Since winning Iceland’s Músíktilraunir competition in 2011, they have been pretty prolific with their output. ‘Silkidrangar Sessions’ is a companion to last year’s ‘Silkidrangar’ album, containing eight reworked tracks from the original, including guest musicians adding the likes of tabla, cello and saxophone. The extra layers of sound complement tracks like the upbeat shuffle of ‘Þótt Hann Rigni’, or bring a new perspective with the suggestion of an eerie subtext (‘Brennur Slauga’). Yet no track is cluttered or excitable – there is still a sense of pure, minimalist electronica here, at its finest for ‘Lífsins Ólgudub’.
Sometimes you can hear their above-mentioned musical influences, such as on the enchanting and sparse ‘Nótt (One For The Girls)’ or ‘Ég Vildi Fegin’, where the vocal is to the fore and the strings, clarinet and modular synth meander and layer before a trip hop beat fades in, but this is rare. Mostly, the unfolding and building of each track aims to take you elsewhere, beyond pop, beyond dance music, provoking images of distant horizons, the elements, echoes, and a sense of something ancient, yet modern.
There’s a theme of duality here too: analogue and digital, live and studio, spontaneity and structure. In ‘Hrafninn’, an instrumental track aside from its husky chants (think Gilli Smyth circa 70s), the music seems to weave a narrative that is both intriguing and pleasing. The next step would be to invite dancers to devise choreography. It would totally work.
With old Sugarcubes members championing them and that glorious Icelandic confidence in art for art’s sake, it’s easy to miss the real legacy that these young artisans uphold. It is certainly krautrock, if not just in attitude. For starters, when recording the original ‘Silkidrangar’ album they had prepared lyrics, but then they found a book of 19th century Icelandic poetry on a shelf in the studio and changed their plan. It meant that the sounds of the words, rather than the words themselves, became even more relevant, less a vocal and more part of the ensemble. This album in particular uses improvisation and spontaneity in a fresh new way: the criteria being that the tracks were unknown to the contributing musicians who only heard them once and were allowed to play as long as they needed, almost doubling the length of the songs. The whole thing was produced in just two days.
When you hear that ‘Silkidrangar’ translates as “silken cliffs” it all makes total sense of the expansive compositions and pleasing rhythms and tones. It’s a beautiful record, intense because everything matters, but there is also a clarity to each track that seems beyond Samaris’ years.
Often a tag of experimental music suggests that the artist or collective have forgotten we are listening – ploughing forth and breaking down boundaries becomes the priority. This not the case with Samaris, whose experimentations should be wholly encouraged.