What a difference a year makes.
Last spring, while on tour with fellow Icelanders/collaborators Sigur Ros, Amiina was introduced to America as a quiet, glacier-paced string quartet (there cannot be a review of Sigur Ros or a satellite band that does not include the phrases “glacier-paced,” “ethereal,” or “dream-like”) that incorporated such disparate elements as muted electronica, tuned water glasses, and the saw (tuned to sound like an off-kilter theramin) into a strange but lulling example of Brian Eno would call “furniture music.” Yet although the instrumentals the quartet produced on tour and for its first EP, Animamina, were talented and textured examples of ambience and classicism, they lacked the emotional momentum of songs by fellow post-rock provocateurs including Mum and the aforementioned Ros.
One year and four sets of vocal cords later, though, Amiina has evolved into something else entirely. Kurr, its full-length debut, is titled after the Icelandic word for “to coo,” and the name could not be more apt. Wordless, haunting vocals now flow in and out of the music like an aural mercury, sliding over the minimalist strings and hushed electronic noise. This ethereal harmonizing infuses the album with a distinct, almost childlike character, adding an element of fragile beauty and humanity that was missing from the band’s earliest work.
The songwriting has progressed as well, with the eclectic instrumentation finally bonding at what sounds like an almost cellular level. With a year on the road comes a more developed, mature musicianship; the four women have created a sound that is lived-in and organic and has transcended the post-modern pastiche of their debut EP. Such elements as the tuned saw now bleed seamlessly into the programmed beats of “Rugla” or “Kolapot,” with the dream-like moaning vocals adding an emotional shading and depth to both.
Like many within Iceland’s post-rock movement, these musicians have not quite mastered the ability to rein in some of their more excessive tendencies. But Kurr exceeds both the promise of Amiina’s distinct instrumental premise and the musical and physical landscape from which the band originates.