When the music loving public reads something like “Icelandic stringquartet” (or really, if they see the word “Icelandic”) they’llmore or less immediately think of those chilly post-rockworld-crushers Sigur R�s. Mainly because, well, nearly every otherIcelandic erm, ‘rock band’ adopt their sound fairly studiously. Of course that’s probably more to do with the nature of Icelandthan Sigur R�s’ cred; if you grow up in a place as chilly though sweepingly, indisputedly gorgeous as Iceland, the music is going toreflect that.
So yes, Amiina – Sigur R�s collaborators, of course – are an Icelandic string quartet who specialize inambient, half-sung operatic ballads, led by a number of esotericinstruments that range from doorbells to the singing saw. And yes,their second long-player Puzzle will certainly make you think of SigurR�s, but not necessarily in a reductive way. Amiina sound like acompanion piece to the work their fellow Icelandic collectives do, notdirect copy cats. In fact, the band Amiina bring to mind more thananyone is Efterklang, the cloudy, Danish, post-rocking quintetwho gave us this year’s lovely Magic Chairs. They share the samepenchant for speedy, alternating orchestral work to which the landmarkopen-palmed drones Agaetis Byrjun simply don’t relate.
Amiina’s biggest strength lies with the players. The four women whomake up the quartet know their way around music the way only�ber-studious musicians do, playing with an intense rigour andrigidness that weaves their wavelengths into dense, unbreakable unisons.What Are We Waiting For stands out in particular, the song switchesbetween swooning string languishes and plunking harmonies in a ratherseducing way. On a sheer technical level, Puzzle is stunning;understanding the amount of studio time and rehearsal work itwould take to make something like this happen is truly mind-boggling -and it demands a certain level of respect.
But, while Puzzle stayspretty throughout, it never really finds its niche, borrowing the samepush-and-pull songwriting trait that put the rest of the Scandinavianarea on the music map back around the turn of the century. It sounds natural and deftin the hands of such honed musicians, but the end result is like arecord for the band members’ posterity than anyone interested in listening.
The music box chimes, the taut violin stabs, the hyperactivepercussion, and the easy indie pop comparisons we’ve heard before. It’s an album that might work for the critically disarmed whojust want something pretty to ease the day, but for anyone payingsignificant attention, there’s just not enough on Puzzle to justifyinvesting in it. As such it’s a solid but annoyingly rather unnecessary album.