FAO#27 (Brave Timbers & Amiina)

The language of musical analysis is rife with clichés, contradictions and confusion.  Whilst it’s often claimed that a ‘less is more’ approach bears some of the greatest fruit, the hypothesis comes unglued when thinking of the layered and laboured-over studio triumphs of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Miles Davis, Serge Gainsbourg and many others.  Things get thornier when tackling the concept of ‘minimalism’; also a term that is regularly misconstrued and misused.  Whilst one voice and a guitar can be classified as minimal, something like Steve Reich’s masterful Music For 18 Musicians is still more truly minimalist.  Together, ‘less is more’ and ‘minimalism’ could both be about the room that is left for the listener to immerse their own thoughts into, rather than how many producers, instruments and singers are at play.  Certainly, the minds that bequeathed our ears with the following new releases have known such distinctions, which have informed their creativity to varying degrees of success.

brave timbers For Every Day You Lost (CD + 3” Woodwork remix CD, Second Language)

brave timbers - For Every Day You Lost

Although taking unassuming backroom roles in bands such as The Declining Winter, Fieldhead, Anna Kashfi and Last Harbour across the last decade or so, Newcastle Upon Tyne-based multi-instrumentalist Sarah Kemp has still made her intuitive presence felt in all the right places.  Now belatedly encouraged to pursue a solo venture – under the capital letter dodging brave timbers alias – by the good-eared folk at Second Language, Kemp has delivered an unquestionably sublime one-person debut LP.  Recorded in a very DIY and semi-improvised fashion, in various multi-tracked combinations of tenor guitar, violin and piano, For Every Day You Lost is the kind of instrumental record that gives journalists context-fitting nightmares.  Grasping at comparisons with the chamber-folk wares of Rachel’s and Dakota Suite may help give some indication of where this 11-track set came from, but such dot-joining is somewhat ill-serving to a collection that creates its own pocket of timeless bucolic melancholy.  Crucially, despite her dexterity and experience across three musical implements, Kemp sustains an unshowy intimacy and restraint throughout, leaving space rather than crowding-out our audio fields.  In turn, this means different melodic details drift to the surface on each spin, with nothing over-defined or over-cooked.  In other, lesser hands, this could have been an austere, unwelcoming and pretentious affair but somehow Kemp unconsciously connects here with both warmth and intelligence.  All told, this is a quietly stunning new beginning to be celebrated.

Second Language Podcast 5 (featuring extracts from brave timbers’ For Every Day You Lost)


AmiinaPuzzle (CD/download, Amiinamusik)

Amiina - Puzzle

Although somewhat overshadowed by the stature of past collaborators (namely the late great Lee Hazlewood and erstwhile employers Sigur Rós), Icelandic outfit Amiina have very gradually become a gentle force to be reckoned with.  With 2007’s full-length debut Kurr, came an utterly bewitching delivery of intimate and scantly-voiced pleasures, that delightfully melded the worlds of Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Joanna Newsom and Icelandic folk.  With Kurr the then all-female quartet revealed that ‘barely-there’ music can be just as moving as more emotionally forthright creations.  Now expanded to a sextet, with the male additions of drummer Magnús Trygvason Eliassen and electronic artist Kippi Kaninus, the challenge for Amiina to keep things distinctively intimate whilst being more ambitiously wide-open, is at the heart of this second album. It’s a challenge that, sadly, the group struggle to overcome at various points throughout proceedings.  Whilst many of the key elements that made Kurr so special are still here – like the plucked strings, woozy accordions, filmic bowed-saws and spine-tingling percussion – they at times feel swamped by the embellished electronics, weightier rhythms and more emphasized vocals.  Whilst there’s nothing wrong with stylistic progression of course, the dilution of the group’s idioms with directions that align too closely to fellow Icelanders (specifically with Sigur Rós’s panoramic profusions on “What Are We Waiting For?” and Múm’s icy digitalism on “Ásin”), has taken away some of Aniima’s unique charms.  That said, there’s still enough of the old subliminal beauty nuzzling inside Puzzle to forgive some of the transgressions; with the serene post-classical glacial shifting of “Thoka” and the eerily pretty harmony-drenched “Over And Again” being especially lovely.  Ultimately, Puzzle may help to build-up Amiina’s brand in the blossoming Icelandic music scene, but hopefully next time around greater courage will be found to pursue a less conformist path.