Here’s another that’ll have ‘em grinning down at the Reykjavik Board of Tourism. While you may not be as familiar with Emiliana Torrini as you are with some of her variously laurelled countrymen, she’s become the latest in a slew of Icelandic pop success stories: a thirty-something ex-waitress who’s opening gambit included the co-writing of “Slow”, a number one hit single for Kylie Minogue. Since then, she’s contributed a song to the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack and recorded two critically acclaimed solo albums, 2000’s Love in the Time of Science and 2005’s Fisherman’s Woman.
On her latest outing, the strong but uneven Me and Armini, Torrini unveils a more adventurous new side of her musical personality but sacrifices some of the emotional intensity that underpinned her predominantly-acoustic 2005 masterpiece. A somewhat scattershot mix of understated balladry and coffeehouse disco, the album’s main drawback is that it tends to pull in too many directions.
“Beggar’s Prayer” is a magnificently fine blend of wistful nostalgia and gentle reassurances, a near-perfect piece of pastoral pop. Cut from the same rich cloth that made Fisherman’s Woman one of best records in recent years, it’s a track that demonstrates the fascinating depth of Torrini’s songcraft. On the other hand, “Fireheads” makes very little impression with an overly spare arrangement and lackluster melody. First single “Me and Armini” similarly declines attention excepting a vague, electro-dub feel and the titular refrain. “Birds” – the album’s longest track – half-succeeds, but only because of a serene, trip-hop interlude that betters Zero 7.
Unusually, the best songs on Me and Armini turn up around the album’s halfway point. “Big Jumps” and “Jungle Drums” are the catchiest tunes here, every bit as good as the singles from Fisherman’s Woman but more beat-driven. Especially potent is the latter, which boasts a rhythm section that’s equal parts Tennessee Three and Bo Diddley, as well as an irresistible chorus that features some totally unexpected scatting.
“Gun,” the album’s most tonally divergent track, is also the most self-consciously dark song Torrini’s released to date. Utilizing harsh atmospherics and an insistent, reverb-drenched guitar riff, it’s a nightmarish murder ballad – a twisted paean to the jilted lover’s weapon of choice. The final two lines are especially chilling: “Hey look me in the barrel and tell me that you love me / Yes this is a kiss that I swear will blow your mind.” And this from the girl who gave us “Sunny Road”.
Ultimately, however, Me and Armini is basically just an above-average batch of pop music that, while generally not on par with her last album, does occasionally match it’s high standards in warmth and candor. Still, while it’s true that the stylistic divergences on this record represent some of the more exciting material she’s recorded, it’s not quite enough to make this essential listening.