If your first thought upon hearing Kurr, the debut full-length by the Icelandic quartet amiina, is that they sound an awful lot like that other Icelandic indie group, Sigur Rós, it’s not just you. In fact, not only is amiina’s Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir maried to Sigur Rós keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson, but the group was actually originally formed as a string quartet to play back-up for their male counterparts both on tour and in the studio for their recent records, ( ) and Takk…. And while you always hope to avoid defining one band solely in relation to another, it’s pretty much impossible to ignore the fact that on their solo debut, Sigfúsdóttir and her bandmates (all with equally Icelandic names: Hildur Ársælsdóttir, Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir, and Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir) sound a lot like a more minimalist, stripped-down, and instrumental version of the band that they formed to support.
Gone are the soaring crescendos, blazing horns, and galloping drums amiina were so recently involved with on Sigur Rós’ 2005 disc Takk .... What’s left over is the gentle lull of glockenspiels, vibraphones, wine glasses, and bells. Along with a few strings and the (very) occasional vocal part, the bright sparkle of those instruments helps to create a calm, soothing atmosphere throughout the record. Somewhere between a Danny Elfman score and the kind of ambient music you might hear coming over the PA in a yoga studio or massage parlour, aniima’s songs move slowly—usually very slowly—giving the album the relaxed, mesmerizing feel of a dripping icicle or the shimmering light of a million drifting snowflakes. It can make for a strikingly beautiful sound.
Unfortunately, that’s what the entire album sounds like. From the first opening twinkle to the final closing twinkle, Kurr maintains an even keel throughout. Too much of an even keel, actually. It’s nearly impossible to tell one song from the other without checking the tracklist, with only slight changes in instrumentation providing any other clue. The opening track, “Sogg”, sounds a lot like the third track, “Glámur”, but without the strings; “Bláfeldur” sounds like “Boga” with horns; “Sexfaldur” sounds like all of them, but with a harmonium tossed in. Even the album’s first single, “Seoul”, which was released last year, doesn’t do anything during its seven-minute running time to make it stand out from the rest of the tracks. Since there isn’t much in the way of vocals or lyrics to keep the listener interested, anyone paying close attention to the music is bound to become bored with the band’s beautiful sound. With glacial pacing and little variety, Kurr is much more the kind of atmospheric, ambient record it might be nice to have on in the background while you’re doing other things. And while those things should probably never include pulling an all-nighter to finish a term paper or operating heavy machinery, Kurr might just provide the perfect soothing soundtrack as you gently doze off on a cool summer night.
So in the end, what you think of Kurr will almost certainly depend on what you think of atmospheric music in general. If you’re the kind of music fan who likes choruses and verses, who loves great lyrics and snappy hooks, and who thinks Sigur Rós is about as ambient as music should get, then Kurr is probably going to make for a frustrating and boring fifty minutes. But hey, if on the other hand you love the slow melt of Scandinavian instrumental music, but wish Sigur Rós would lay off all the big changes, then this might just be the album for you.
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// Notes from the Road
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