Emiliana Torrini and reggae aren’t exactly synonymous with each other. But having dabbled in a bevy of musical modes, manners and genres throughout her fourteen-year career, Icelandic/Italian beauty Emiliana Torrini has never been one to shy away from shifting gears, so to speak. From the electro-pop hit “Slow” that Torrini and oft-collaborator/producer Dan Carey penned for a certain Kylie Minogue to the windy mountain spires and classically inclined landscapes of “Gollum’s Song” (from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack), Torrini has always excelled at diversifying her sound.
Her past two albums — 1999’s Love in the Time of Science and 2005’s Fisherman’s Woman — showed big leaps in style and structure; the former awash in ’90s-evident trip-hop, the latter a study in sparseness and simplicity, with Carey’s classical guitar artfully roped around Torrini’s girlishly sage voice. So it should come as no surprise that the title track of Emiliana Torrini’s new album, Me and Armini, is grounded in the kind of skank guitar and vocal delivery associated with reggae music. In fact, much of Armini finds Torrini staking out new sounds, making it her most accessible album to date.
In stark contrast to the moody restraint of 2005’s sublime Fisherman’s Woman — which was, in part, a collection of songs in remembrance of Torrini’s boyfriend who unexpectedly passed away in 2000 — Armini quickly reveals itself to be a more upbeat affair. Album scorcher “Heard It All Before” chugs along with gusto amid insistent percussive flourishes, mandolins and church organ while Torrini’s brazen vocal delivers the kind of moxy one might expect from a woman who prides herself on being able to drink any man under the table. Meanwhile, “Jungle Drum” administers a healthy dose of adrenaline, where Torrini’s jubilant refrain of “my heart’s beating like a jungle drum” is set feverishly against electronically tinged clatter, sneer-happy drums and Carey’s surf guitar.
In fact, there is much to discover in Me and Armini, but at times the multiformity of styles within songs makes for a less cohesive whole. In addition to reggae, the pop-folk of “Big Jumps,” and the vox/guitar combo we’ve come to expect from Torrini/Carey collaborations, we’re also treated to songs of a more experimental nature, to greater or lesser degree. “Dead Duck” offers up a cacophony of electronic whirs and hums, restless cymbal crashes, and dense, mechanical layers of vocals all building up to a remarkable mid-section that comes out of left field and reminds that Torrini and Carey are fully capable of making vital music for anyone who cares to listen. On the flipside, the nearly six-minute “Gun” aims for the abstract, riff-heavy heights of Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel” but ultimately comes off as too long-winded for its own good.
Ultimately, Me and Armini merely falls short of being as fully conceived as the astonoshing Fisherman’s Woman. But (and this is a big “but”), as a collection of songs, Me and Armini is easily her most fun album to date.