Amiina - Puzzle
Tom Reed 22/10/2010
The cover of Amiina's debut album, 2007's Kurr, gave journos everywhere a perfect metaphor for their music. The sleeve shows the four members of the band sat with needles, knitting a giant scarf, much in the way their music weaved together gently, creating a soothing, warming feeling for the listener. Having spent much of the last decade as Sigur Ros' string section, the inevitable comparisons are going to be made. But, having added a drummer and “electronic artist” to the band, Amiina are clearly trying to step out from the shadow of their fellow countrymen.
From the opening digital twinkles of Ásinn, it's clear that while much has changed about Amiina's musical texture, the feeling their music creates is much the same. I saw the band play as both string section and support act to Sigur Ros on the tour around 5 years ago, and the four girls played around a huge table laden with all sorts of instruments - wine glasses, glockenspiels, toy pianos, laptops and even a musical saw. Many of those elements have been retained, but the addition of further electronic layers and live drums have anchored the band's weightless melodies.
Another first is the use of English lyrics, as on the free download taster track Over and Again, and on the gorgeous What Are We Waiting For? The latter weaves a simple folksy melody over glockenspiel and delicate strings, before some urgent, drumming pushes the whole thing skyward. Title track Púsl (In Icelandic!) is more of a slow burner, gradually unfurling over 6 minutes with a glitchy carpet of electronics building around lush, interweaving melody.
But one really interesting point occurs on the albums' other lengthy instrumental, Sicsak. The tune features an undercurrent of tension, even menace that we haven't heard from Amiina before. It sounds not unlike something from Portishead's Third album, and you can easily close your eyes and imagine Beth Gibbons' withered, witchy vocals over the top of the eerie atmospherics Amiina create. It's closing minutes are especially thrilling, as the drums again push the piece to a conclusion that could almost be described as heavy.
This album really deserves to see Amiina get more recognition, and one hopes the constant Sigur comparisons may one day escape them. They show enough variety between the light and shade on this to do so.