Mondays in Iceland - #75
Pascal Pinon, Sundur and the circle…
I’ve been listening to the latest Pascal Pinon album a lot. What follows is not exactly a commercial review; in light of the sensitive nature of this project that would be crass. This is more of a rumination—on the music of course, but also on my circular quest for a fuller understanding of life via Icelandic culture.
By the mid-80s, when I had pretty much hung up my musical “career”, I was trying to make the home and family thing work. One escape from my domestic duties that I did have was a subscription to Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, one of the few periodicals that retained a large format. The articles and photography were mostly about New York art and music scenes, but they also showcased up-and-comers from around the world. One of these blurbs featured the Icelandic band The Sugarcubes: Björk’s breakout vehicle. It was the beginning of a circle. I made a mental note of her and, in 2000, the Weaver and I did manage a short trip to Iceland. She was impressed but I was overwhelmed, especially with the omnipotence of Björk in the shops. So began a cultural odyssey. After quickly getting up to speed on Icelandic music and literature (and with the advent of blogs), I even began to make personal contacts with some of the natives. Now, five trips to Iceland later, I have come to the realization that I am approaching the end of the circle. Nothing ever stays the same, of course, and my contacts in Iceland have, like me, have moved on in their lives. The classic literature of Iceland remains great (and I adore serious Icelandic theater), its modern practitioners are gifted. Icelandic cinema remains very strong. The Icelandic music scene, however, seems to have reached some kind of peak around 2010. Although there are still some acts with international success (Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men), the most challenging new work is coming from Jóhann Jóhannsson, as a film music composer (Prisoners, The Theory of Everything, as well as the new Bladerunner).
All of this rambling is a preface to today’s subject: Sundur, the third album by Ásthildur and Jófríður Ákadóttir, twin sisters who call themselves Pascal Pinon. I first saw them in 2009 at Iceland Airwaves and I have always had an affection for the group. Their first release (Pascal Pinon, 2010), recorded when they were 14 years old, was a honest topography of the heart. Twosomeness, their second release (2013), brought the girls out of their bedroom and into the studio. It was, as to be expected, much more polished, while still retaining an intimate nature. Sundur goes far beyond either of these, presenting Jófríður’s lyrics "up-close-and-personal" accompanied by Ásthildur’s sure-handed production. The songs, as would be expected from the album’s title, are about love: lost, broken, or missed, with a bittersweet tinge. I could run this down track-by-track, but Jófríður has graciously already done so. Two of the stand-out cuts, Orange, and Ást, are available at the link. Ást was inspired by the writing of Halldór Laxness (another cultural circle), and is a powerful lament on love: “… the silent symphony created by stroking the strings of the heart… ”
Speaking of circles, Jófríður is featured in a recent Guardian article as being one of Björk's inspirations! Some reviewers have commented on the similarity of the two singers vocal styles. There is something to it but Jófríður is in full command of her gift; her melodies and phrasings are her own, the similarities in diction are shared by thousands of other Icelanders! She is also blessed with a twin sister who has grown musically as well. Ásthildur’s previous contributions were subtle but she is now an equal partner in this fascinating collaboration. Her assured and dynamic keyboard efforts are the equal of her sister’s vocalizations. I would even put Sundur in the same class as Joni Mitchell’s Blue, not as mature, of course (after all, they still are only 22), yet it is even more intimate than Joni’s masterwork—if such a thing could be possible. As a jaded, card-carrying curmudgeon, it takes a lot to crack my frozen attitudes. Pascal Pinon, those wyrd sisters from the North Country, not only thawed my resistance, they positively melted me.