“Emilíana is under-appreciated in her home country”, a group of grinning Icelandic tourists tell us by the bar at a packed Heaven. “She doesn’t play often at home, so when we heard she was playing here we were very excited.” Them and everyone else, it seems, because as make our way into the venue, in time to see the support act, the person behind us snaps up the very last ticket available tonight. Not bad for someone who left a five year gap between her last two albums.
And they were really quite different albums. Me And Armini was full of warm, earthy poetry, perfect for Emilíana Torrini‘s kooky, heavily accented voice. It was chorus heavy, and its songs were widely used in leftfield TV shows and films. Tookah, which was released in September this year, saw her bring electronica to the mix, for an album of dreamy, fantastical folk. The album title itself is a word made up by Torrini to describe “a sense of inner peace that can be found in everyone”. She switched from focusing on her surroundings to concentrating on the internal. And it’s with the album’s title track that she opens tonight’s show.
It sets the scene for the next hour or so, as her back catalogue is tweaked and remodelled into a more Tookah-ish sound. The pop melodies of some of her more instant songs – Jungle Drum, Big Jumps, Sunny Road, Me and Armini – are blurred and watered down. It’s the sort of shift you usually see in much younger artists, trying to shake off their poppy past in favour of a cooler, more credible sound. But Miley Cyrus she ain’t; even though her outfit tonight screams electro-pop, the floral frocks and hair braids of yore defiantly tossed to the back of her wardrobe.
Tracks from the new album dominate; Caterpillar is all fizzing synths; an ode to her aunt, Elisabet, shows off both the intricacies of Torrini’s song writing and her crystal-clear, room-silencing voice; Home is a busy, bustling, upbeat surf-ish song that recalls her Icelandic release-only, pre-Me And Armini work; while the glittering, epic electro pop of Speed Of Dark, closes her main set. But it’s Animal Games which stands out both on Tookah and tonight. In equal parts bitter and sexy, it’s dripping in attitude, as she scornfully reprimands a commitment-phobic lover; “Your heart is like a dough, you shape it how you want… You’re playing all these games that I don’t know how to play, Now you say you love me, Next you’re going away, So I find new love because that is what I do.” With layered percussion, it’s injected with an electro-fuzz tonight, adding an extra punch to her venomous vocals.
It’s an interesting twist from an artist more readily considered a safe, folksy bet. She’s by no means unrecognisable from the Torinni of 2008, but Tookah, and the impact that release has had on her live show, offers a glimpse of what could possibly follow. Indeed, she talks about taking a “psychedellic” album to her record label, Rough Trade, a couple of years ago. “Sometimes it’s better to wait a while”, she quips. Whether that’s a reflection or a promise, let’s hope we don’t have quite so long to wait next time.