“I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote a note to myself: ‘Write about hope and Spring'”. So says Icelandic singer and multi-instrumentalist Sóley regarding the inspiration for her third album, Endless Summer. Lovely as that sounds, it’s not the most enticing advertisement for the record. After all, there are plenty of albums that deal with themes of hope and springtime that are utterly banal, featherweight counterparts to the weightier material from winter and autumn. If all you know about an album is that it’s “springy”, it’s easy to imagine that it will be a sickly sweet, pastel-colored, boring affair.
Fortunately, Endless Summer does not fit that bill at all. The album evinces far more depth than the simple descriptors of “hope and spring” might suggest, and if anything Sóley seems to be selling herself short with that introduction. Icelandic summers are doubtlessly different from those in the American South that I grew up with, as is clear both from common meteorological sense and from a cursory listen to this record. Whereas I might associate summer with languid music suggestive of humid, swampy heat, Sóley adorns the album with pristine piano, strings, and woodwinds that retain a certain chill and crispness despite their breezy, relaxed vibe.
As far as depictions of summer go, the closest analogue in popular consciousness to Endless Summer might be something of the Midsummer Night’s Dream variety. Beginning with the beguiling “Úa”, the album immediately introduces us to the idea of an otherworldly escape. “I have to get away,” Sóley sings melodiously over intricate, crystalline piano reminiscent of Under the Pink-era Tori Amos. It’s as if she has decided to wander away from a summer party into the dark woods, drawn forth by some enchantment, and it’s all we can do but to follow her. Indeed, if summer is often considered to be the most social of seasons, here we are presented with a portrait of quiet and solitude.
This initial invitation is among the album’s strongest moments. From there, we have an interspersion of highs and lows, mostly as a function of how well Sóley uses embellishments to make her otherwise minimal compositions pop. “Grow” is a case in point; as one of the loungiest, most monochromatic numbers on the album, the song more or less fades into the wallpaper—that is, until Sóley punctuates it all with the dreary refrain, “We grow up, and we die”. “Sing Wood to Silence” is also nondescript, but lacking a similarly memorable hook or lyric it is likely to expire fairly quickly in one’s memory.
Despite some inconsistencies, Endless Summer concludes on a strong note with “Traveler” and the title track, “Endless Summer”. The former introduces some welcome variations in texture with a radiant, shimmering organ line that washes over the arrangement like curtains of light. Coming off of six pieces of relatively straightforward chamber music, this bit of musical experimentation comes across as enthralling.
“Endless Summer” concludes things on something of an enigmatic note, meanwhile. “You can find me in the flowers / You can find yourself some peace”, Sóley sings, not quite deciding to come back to civilization but at least giving us a few clues as to her general coordinates, should we wish to join her. She then leaves us with the most gorgeous piano line on the album, a delicate, yearning motif that she repeats for several minutes as it gradually fades to silence.
There’s something sad about this ending, like a window closing; perhaps Sóley, or rather the protagonist of the story, has decided to vanish into this otherworldly summer after all, her entreaties left unanswered. To continue with the analogy of fairy tales and children’s stories, it is like Wendy from Peter Pan learning that she can never again return to Neverland, watching her former companion fly away. It is precisely this level of emotional precision that elevates Endless Summer beyond your typical ode to the warmer seasons. Though it has its less affecting moments, taken as a whole this short album is evocative and redolent with a quiet magic.