Iceland (and Scandinavia in general) seems to always produce incredible music. It's probably because we in the UK don't hear all of the drivel that gets farted out - if it isn't any good, it's unlikely to traverse the North Sea - but still, what we do get is astonishing. Be it the post-rock bombast of Sigur Rós or the eccentricities of Björk; the subtleties of Valgeir Sigurðsson or Ólöf Arnalds' dulcet tones. Iceland is a hotbed of musical activity, and with festivals like Iceland Airwaves championing local talent, the nation will continue to churn out greatness. One of the recent outfits that fits that mould is Samaris, who had a particularly stellar set at last year's event.
None of Samaris are even twenty years old yet. Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir, Jófríður Ákadóttir and Þórður Kári Steinþórsson belie their age, emanating brilliance and weaving thoroughly scintillating electronica. It's tinted with trip-hop beats and haunting clarinet melodies, and though their noises are of an astral ilk similar to many other Icelandic outputs, they carve themselves a unique crevice from which to spin their sonic webs. They've already dropped a few releases, astounding critics Europe-wide - not to mention briskly selling out of said releases and performing to doe-eyed crowds on their home turf. They're not just catering for the Icelandic market though - us Brits are about to finally get something tangible from the sprightly trio. Their debut self-titled LP is out via One Little Indian at the end of July (29th to be precise). The record is a combination of their already-released Icelandic material and a few remixes.
Lead single 'Góða Tungl' opens with clicking post-dubstep percussion and Ákadóttir's bewitching folk vocals (folkals?). There's pitch-shifted harmonies and pious hymnal organs. The synths quiver and quake as icy beats shatter silence; breathy clarinet, far from jutting out, blends into the soundscape like yoghurt in a smoothie. Ákadóttir's native tongue is crystalline - it's undecipherable without a phrase book, but somehow that's more captivating. The Icelandic language sounds so majestic and intimate in music (that's one large part of Sigur Rós' appeal), breathy sighs and gasping bursts rolling and flicking off the lips with so much depth, passion and emotion - there's no need to know the lingo, the mere tone conveys everything you need to know. Perhaps more. Perhaps not knowing the true meaning elicits a deeper more personal interpretation.
'Stofnar Falla' has Chromatic-ish synthwork and classical woodwind refrains darting in and out of melodies like tropical fish; it's got a fluidity that's synonymous with smooth electronica. The bass and percussion are low in the mix, providing an unseen spine for the more aquatic layers and Ákadóttir's whispered chants. Steinþórsson is the Jamie xx of the group, masterminding the production and synthetic elements while the others use more organic instruments. On 'Kælan Mikla', he shines. There are titanic synth blips bursting like bubbles above murky, menacing clarinet from Magnúsdóttir, and his fractured percussion instigates shivers. He injects a dance vibe into the fray - it's a kind of post-trance cut, with soaring pads and shards of sci-fi piercing the natural layers from the rest of Samaris.
Although this is an album of material some will have heard, it's of staggering quality. The only thing that stops this being a groundbreaking record - which it is so painfully close to being - is the inclusion of remixes. Whether or they're any cop or not (they are) is beside the point. They're all well and good on an actual EP or as B-sides, but on a full-length, and a debut at that, they're unwelcome. We're aching for fresh sounds (though they're reportedly prepping an entire new album of new music to be out new this autumn). Why fill out disc-space and precious minutes with other people's work? If Samaris had used the time to shoehorn in maybe two or three more efforts, there's no doubt that this would be gleaming on an altar, with people sobbing along and worshipping it's flawlessness. But alas, remixes. The bane of perfect albums everywhere.
Aside from that single pitfall, this is an incredible record, and very worthy of your time. If it's any indicator of what to expect from Samaris in the future, then the world is going to be a better place. As they mature and develop further, we'll receive sounds of an even higher calibre. Samaris is superb. It's fantastic. It's amazing. It's... really... really... there's not even enough adjectives to describe it, that's how good it is. If a music hack running out of adjectives isn't a sign of a successful record, then who knows what is.