The cover of Icelandic four-piece Amiina’s debut album Kurr features the ladies knitting either the world’s largest scarf or a jumper for a giant. There’s a coven-like quality to the image, an all-female moment of magic captured and displayed.
S�lr�n Sumarlidad�ttir, Mar�a Sigf�sd�ttir, Edda Olafsdottir and Hildur �rs�lsd�ttir first got together as a string quartet, using their classical training in collaborations with Sigur R�s. They then developed into a performing band in their own right, opening for their compatriots around the world. From their string quartet roots they added an inventive array of instruments including saw, harps, metalophones, singing wine glasses, xylophones, glockenspiels, harmoniums, bells and kalimbas, to name but a few.
All this multi-instrumentalism might suggest an epic slab of invention a la Arcade Fire, but what we have with Kurr is instead a delicate, ponderously paced and especially quiet record formed of musical moments rather than songs. The tracks ostensibly have titles, but their intricate twinkles are really just phrases. Each in its own right is lovely. Rugla’s mix of saw, what could be marimba and strings gives way to endearing squeaks that sound like baby cartoon rabbits leaping about in a meadow and discovering dandelions for the first time. It’s a piece that was made to soundtrack the word “enchanting”. It’s also one of the few tracks with a vocal line, Hilli being another.
Gl�mur pairs xzylophone and wine glasses (they’re back for the half-a-piece that is the 41-second Saga and album closer Boga – the girls evidently like their particular sound) to airless effect before growing into an emotive collage centred on strings. Seoul’s glocks twinkle but by now realisation is setting in that the songwriting merely gives outlets for Amiina to play unusual instruments and enjoy themselves. That enjoyment doesn’t always translate to the listener, for whom some variety of scale, volume and rhythm would be cathartic. Just about everything is major-chord, and slow-paced repetition does nothing to improve it. L�ri’s harpsichords suggest a tempramental change, even wheeling out minor chords and a snare drum, but the pace remains the same.
Despite simplistic writing and a dearth of variety surprising in an album featuring so many instruments, Kurr at times has an experimental quality that wouldn’t be out of place on an album by M�m. Its classical grounding gives it a structured side too, evidenced most obviously in the woozy string sections of Sexfaldur. Bl�feldur pushes the boat out still further, using a brass section. But for all that might have been, the whole seems rather less than the sum of the parts.
Even before the end of the first listen, Kurr’s claustrophobic sound causes a restless reaction. For all its fragile beauty, it’s at its best in small chunks. The airless atmospherics and interminable pace make it a difficult listen from beginning to end; in small doses, Amiina’s music is lovely and novel, but for these ears a whole album of it is just too much of a good thing.