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Critics reviewing AnimaminA, the debut EP by Iceland's Amina, often assume that the disc's seemingly serene yet unexpectedly intricate compositions are attempts by the string quartet's players to translate the forbidding geography of their home country into sound. Such conjecture frosts cellist SolrÃºn Sumarlioadóttir.
"It's what people think," she says, "and it's stuck onto loads of Icelandic musicians. But it's nothing conscious or something that we're trying to do."
Sumarlioadóttir, viola player Edda RÃºn 'lafsdóttir and violinists María Huld Markan and Hildur ÁrsÃ³lsdóttir met in the mid-'90s, when they were teenagers attending the Reykjavik College of Music. They initially operated within the classical sphere, but before long, they began receiving calls from pop-oriented performers and acts wanting to book them for concerts and studio sessions. As the decade's end neared, members of Sigur Rós joined these dialers, spurring a long-term relationship. "We've grown up side by side with them since then, and I think we're really close," Sumarlioadóttir says. "The guys have hardly done any tours without us since '99, and people who've gone to see one of their gigs have most likely seen us."
The Aminans remain a major contributor to Sigur Rós's recordings; they're heard throughout the latest SR disc, 2005's Takk..., even earning a songwriting credit on one cut, "Mílanó." Still, Sumarlioadóttir emphasizes, "We're two separate groups," and AnimaminA confirms her claim. Thanks to its prettiness, the disc may put some observers in mind of new-age releases -- a prospect that leaves Sumarlioadóttir cold. "I don't mind people using our record as background music," she insists, "but one prefers to believe that people actually listen." Those who do will be rewarded, since the recording captures the combo in the act of inventing itself.
The opportunity to make music from scratch rather than "adding onto someone else's framework" brought out the four-piece's experimental side, Sumarlioadóttir notes. When the time came to write new material, she says, "We filled up a car with instruments and went away for a week to this isolated place in the west of the country. At first we were just banging on things, but then we found some wine glasses in the kitchen, filled them with water and started playing them."
This improvised glassophone can be heard on "Skakka," a tune whose mingling of the gorgeous and the vaguely unsettling was purely intentional. "We really try to put in a lot of details, a lot of layers," she maintains. "We're definitely toward the melodic side of things, but I think everything is slightly atonal, or slightly out of tune, or slightly crooked in one way or the other. We've always tried to put in these tiny, weird things, or else the music can be too sweet. We like to kind of keep it on the borderline."
Of course, the border many folks will envision as they spin AnimaminA will be the one between Iceland and the North Atlantic, whether Sumarlioadóttir likes it or not.
Have you driven a fjord lately?