Saturday, November 09, 2013

Samaris— Promise and Problems

I’ve been listening to the “new’ Samaris CD. It was released last summer on the One Little Indian label. It contains their first two EPs—all eight original tracks with the addition of four remixes. They’ve recently given stunning performances at Iceland Airwaves, and have several festival dates lined up for the new year. The group´s material comes from 18th century Icelandic poetry set to a minimal electronica background (created by Þórður Kári Steinþórsson) with vocal melodies by Jófríður Ákadóttir and layered with clarinet themes by Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir. I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of this all year, although lo-fi video clips don't do this music justice. I caught them last year at the now demolished Faktorý—a crazy gig in a sweltering room full of yakkers:

Needless to say, I was eager to give this CD a listen in the privacy of my pine-paneled garret. Their music is wonderful. The concept—old poetry sung in Icelandic with a programmer and a clarinetist—sounds like a recipe for disaster. I found the result surprisingly fresh and unaffected. The songs are carefully structured, just the right length and had enough musical surprises to delight both the casual and serious listener. Jófríður has a tremendous sense of melody; it was the first thing I noticed about her in her other group Pascal Pinon (at the 2009 Iceland Airwaves.) The group has been getting a lot of attention; their version of Góða Tungl will be featured in the upcoming Icelandic feature film XL.

Now for the bad: The remixes. Really, really bad. This kind of audio graffiti was lame years ago and its tedious execution here left me with a bad taste for the whole album. I assume the remixes were done to give the group exposure to club music market. Samaris, unlike Pascal Pinon, is managed by “outsiders” and evidently the group has no control of their product, excepting the basic tracks. Even the cover art was misguided. This is one CD I’ll definitely re-burn without the remixes. The members of Samaris are all students and have a limit to how much effort they can expend on their career; what they have produced here is great. It is unfortunate that this collection was marred by lesser talents. The group has been performing some of these remixes live, so I’ll assume they approve.

Jófríður has tremendous potential, recent photos from the Airwaves show at Harpa show her gaining stage presence. She’s a talent to watch, I hope her career doesn’t get sidetracked by uninspired management.

Samaris in 3-D:

Cross eyes and focus on the center image for stereo effect!

By Professor Batty


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