Emiliana Torrini: Fisherman's Woman

Adrien Begrand

On her first album in six years, the talented Torrini equals the beauty of her debut album, in an entirely different way.

Emiliana Torrini

Fisherman's Woman

Label: Rough Trade
US Release Date: 2005-04-26
UK Release Date: 2005-01-31
Amazon affiliate

Emiliana Torrini's 1999 debut album Love in the Time of Science remains one of the most underrated gems in recent memory. Lushly produced by Tears For Fears' Roland Orzabal, the album was a sumptuous piece of techno-pop, the gorgeous arrangements acting as a perfect backdrop to the young, eccentric Italian-Icelandic singer-songwriter. Her petite voice, not to mention her Icelandic background, led to many comparisons to Björk, and while her vocal phrasing sometimes did bear a strong similarity to the ever-enigmatic Ms. Gudmundsdóttir, Torrini kept her sights aimed more toward the middle of the road, her compositions having more of a pop appeal (something that Björk has long since abandoned), exemplified by the wonderful singles "Unemployed in Summertime" and "Wednesday's Child". If anything, the most impressive thing about Love in the Time of Science is how it predates Goldfrapp's masterful 2000 debut Felt Mountain, possessing the same entrancing blend of chill-out electronic music, organic instrumentation, and hypnotic vocals. While Goldfrapp went on to steadily build a fanbase, Torrini remained a cult favorite, but with such a strong debut album, it had to be only a matter of time before the rest of the world caught on.

That is, if she ever got around to recording a follow-up. It's not as if Torrini has been completely inactive; in the past couple years, she's appeared on the soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, singing the haunting "Gollum's Song", and even more surprisingly, she wrote Kylie Minogue's sultry pop hit "Slow", one of 2002's best singles. Still, especially today, when MP3s are exchanged at furious rates, with people's favorite iPod songs changing weekly, it's easy for an artist today to become yesterday's news, making it very easy to forget about someone who knocked you out with a single five years ago. So it was no surprise that when word came out that Emiliana Torrini had a new album coming out, more than a few people stopped and thought to themselves, "Oh yeah, her."

Six years is an eternity in popular music, so it's as if Torrini is starting from scratch, a feeling that's noticeable the instant her new CD Fisherman's Woman starts playing. Gone are the comfy, heavily layered electronic sounds, replaced by a simple acoustic guitar, and little else. Collaborating with a Brixton-based producer named Mr. Dan, Torrini creates a sound that's every bit as welcoming as Love in the Time of Science, but only on a much more intimate level. Much like what her fellow Iceland natives Múm did on last year's Summer Make Good, the mix is very cozy, her hushed voice is accompanied by the odd sound of wood creaking (like a house's foundation settling in the cold, or a ship's hull creaking at sea), but instead of creating a sense of foreboding, it only softens the sound even more, giving it a dreamlike quality. And a good dream it is.

"Home alone and happy," sings Torrini on the opening track, over a gently plucked acoustic guitar, "Nothing brings me down." Centering on the theme of strength, hope, and faith during periods of loss, Fisherman's Woman delves into the inner conflicts of a person separated from a loved one for an extended period of time, whether it's a fisherman's wife hoping her husband returns safely, or a musician on the road yearning for home. The lovely, lilting "Sunnyroad" has Torrini's protagonist writing to a former lover ("I know I'm bad to jump on you like this/ Some things don't change/ My middle name's still 'Risk'"), while the forlorn "Snow" borders on desperation ("And I hope again to live this life/ Just to see you again before I die"). "Next Time Around", the album's prettiest moment, has Torrini meshing that sense of loneliness with her enigmatic lyrical style that made her first album so charming, while giving the record's most nuanced vocal performance.

The album's tone overall is comfortably consistent, the only musical variation being the shift to a shimmering vibrato electric guitar on "Honeymoon Child" (a song written by (smog)'s Bill Callahan), subtle electric piano on the title track, and a very understated blend of piano, glockenspiel, and pedal steel on "Today Has Been OK". This sort of thing has been done to death so much, especially since a new generation discovered the great Nick Drake in the late '90s, but every so often, you get an innocuous CD that's so beguiling, it really shows how easy it is to separate the pretenders from the real thing. Fisherman's Woman is a breathtakingly beautiful little album, and it's Torrini's unwavering optimism and patience underneath the despair which makes the record so gratifying. "Waiting for you by the window/ With the brightest red lipstick on my lips/ Just like Anna waits for her man/ How will I learn?" muses Torrini at one point, only to suddenly realize there's only one answer to that question. "I'll wait."






PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.