Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Album Review: Sóley - We Sink

Icelandic music has a “sound”—dreamy vocals, creative instrumentation, an ethereal quality that makes it hard to put an auditory finger on anything concrete.  On her first solo album We Sink, Sóley Stefánsdóttir, better known as Sóley, breaks away from her work with two of Iceland’s better-known acts Sin Fang and Seabear to forge her own sound.  We Sink has the same ethereal quality, the same creative instrumentation, and Sóley’s vocals are as gently slurred and dreamy as either of the other two projects, but where the music of Seabear and Sin Fang conjured images of pristine landscapes and summer days, Sóley’s music takes on a more nightmarish quality.  The collection of songs has a colder feel, a minor tonality, and the lyrical content of a horror film.

No song better encapsulates Sóley’s penchant for romantic terror than “Kill the Crown,” a song that narrates the story of a fight with a homicidal clown.  The eerie choir of voices singing “Kill the clown” on the chorus is utterly terrifying.  Much of the album does seem to espouse a childhood nightmare feel, using Wurlitzer and piano, background whispers, and even Sóley’s childlike vocal qualities to conjure up feelings forgotten ever since there was a monster in your closet.  A prime example of this aura is “Bad Dream,” which features echoey, unmusical vocal melodies in the telling of a story of a rabbit that steals the narrator’s heart. 

Like “Kill the Clown” and “Bad Dream”, many of the songs on We Sink are primarily narrative in lyrical content, often favoring storytelling over melody.  For this reason, the elements that convey mood and ambience are highlighted on every song and Sóley often jams lyrics into melodic lines not long enough to fit narrative ideas.   It is an extraordinary songwriting approach and Sóley deftly manipulates her listener’s mood to one of quiet consternation and distrust.  She’s a very talented songwriter, experimenting with song form, sparse instrumentation, and discordant melodies to convey an overall mood rather than individual songs. 

While the album is bursting with examples of Sóley’s talent, the mood begs the question of whether you would ever want to listen to music that makes your skin crawl.  It’s beautiful to be sure, but whether it’s enjoyable is another question.  In many ways, Sóley is something of a musical Tim Burton—talented and artistic, but distressing.  Should you give this house of mirrors a listen, you’ll probably either love or hate it.  

Full Album Stream

Track List
1. I'll Drown
2. Smashed Birds
3. Pretty Face
4. Bad Dream
5. Dance
6. And Leave
7. Blue Leaves
8. Kill The Clown
9. Fight Them Soft
10. About Your Funeral
11. Sun is Going Down I
12. Sun is Going Down II

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