Published July 29, 2013
Two—possibly three—eras mesh in Samaris’s music: lead vocalist Jófríður Ákadóttir melodicizes poetry by Icelandic writers such as Steingrímur Thorsteinsson, Örn Arnarsson, and others who wrote around the turn of the twentieth century, to minimalistic beats presented by laptop-dude Þórður Kári Steinﬂórsson while clarinettist Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir weaves folky threads that conjoin the trio. The interaction of these three very distinct parts constitutes the magic of Samaris’s overall sound, as do the widely distinct impressions that each element conjures.
The lyrics, melodies and performance of Jófríður bring a long-gone rural world to mind: distant yet simple societies—at the very least completely different from our everyday lives. A shepherd, she has lost her way in the gathering shadows of a late summer’s night. As the dimming light and her loneliness bring elves and trolls and otherworldly creatures to life, she has nothing to soothe her restless mind but a song. At the same time, Þórður’s electronic accompaniment evokes a nerve-wrecking comedown on the underground—jaws clenched, eyes bloodshot, reflecting neon lights and barely legal afterparties.
‘Samaris’ is a compilation album. It collects both of Samaris’s EPs on a single CD, which is to say that this is not a traditional album. At times, this patchwork quality is quite notable. For example, the simple yet effective palette of airy vocals, heavy bass, subtle electronic percussion, distant woodwinds and wavering synths does grow old after a while. On an album, the band could easily sidestep this by incorporating different sounds and guaranteeing a tighter flow by careful sequencing.
And they should—because at their best, Samaris are a great band. “Góða tungl,” (“Dear Moon”), probably their best known track, is infectious; the skeleton-shifting bass, eerie backing vocals and cool garage-styled programming make for an enticing web of sound, but ultimately it’s the melody proper that haunts you. “VögguDub” (“CradleDub”) is a spaced out and pretty affair with an especially folky melody that really drives its point home once Jófríður harmonizes beautifully with herself halfway through the track. The vocals are cut up and fucked around with for added effect and even though the tempo is slow, you’ll find yourself in knee-deep-house mode, more than ready for any hotel lounge or pricey meal.
The last four tracks of the ‘album’ are remixes. Muted’s version of “Hljóma ﬂú” (“Sound!”) and Subminimal’s take on “Stofnar falla” [“The Trunks They Are a’Fallin”) far surpass the rest. The first is a laid-back, hazy, slow, minimal mix that probably sounds closest to Samaris themselves out of the remixes represented (I even think they’ve been performing this version live as of late). Subminimal’s version is a drum’n’bass opus reminiscent of Photek’s work in the nineties. It wildly exaggerates the distance between the Icelandic turf-house and the London rave to great effect.
Samaris base their work on a simple, well executed idea. And even though this CD only serves as an introduction to the band’s sound (One Little Indian will put this out in Europe before long, while 12 Tónar do local duties) I must say it sounds more than just promising.