Monday, July 14, 2008

a week in EPs day #6: amiina - seoul

yup, i've returned to the EP and am loving it. nearly a year to the day since i left off with land of talk's applause cheer boo hiss (which i still avidly listen to, by the way), i return with another five-day dose of the best in great extended plays. only one of this year's entrants was released between july 20, 2007 and july 14, 2008, but a couple more were introduced to me in that time period; the others are old standbys that are aging excellently. while i haven't narrowed down my list totally yet, i can say there will be no repeated bands (sing jonathan david very nearly made it, but "take your carriage clock and shove it" just plain sucks), and i'm excited to make amends to some of the very great bands i skipped last year. so, without further ado, here is seoul.

rarely do i muster the courage to defy the all-knowing wikipedia, but i'm going to today with impunity. last year, for my final entry, i stretched the meaning of "EP" in one direction; this year, it's going the other way. wikipedia classifies seoul as a single, but i don't care - amiina's second release is sophisticated, mature, and playful, and contains the only recording of "ammaelis," a song so deliriously enchanting that it alone merits seoul's boost from a single to an EP (even if it's only for my nefarious purposes). so overlook the fact that, of seoul's three tracks, two are on amiina's full-length kurr (though "ugla" was subtly renamed "rugla"), and just embrace the three songs that heralded amiina's crowning as the cutest band in the world (an assertion validated by the band's photo gallery).

it's been too long since i last talked about amiina, but not much has changed since then. unfortunately, the icelandic quartet has been quiet as mice, though sigur rós's return to touring surely (hopefully) means that amiina will also regain their place as opening act. the band - maría huld markan sigfúsdóttir, hildur ársælsdóttir, edda rún ólafsdóttir, and sólrún sumarliðadóttir - congealed through sigur rós's touring schedule, the four women in close contact as sigur rós's backing string quartet. amiina first performed in july 2005, on the takk... tour, with a set of hastily stitched together songs. i saw sigur rós three times on the takk... tour, and was impressed exponentially each time by amiina, whose songs tangibly improved each time. two songs of that set stood out especially, which i referred to in my mind as "that song with the musical saw" and "that awesome video game one." both of these songs are on seoul. "that song with the musical saw" is the title track, a seven-minute exploration grounded in a hypnotic xylophone riff and buttressed by the saw's atmospherism. "the video game one" was "ammaelis," amiina's set-ender, which exemplifies the band's quirky cheerfulness vis-a-vis a 80s casio beat surrounded by shimmering synths. together with "ugla," which was written between tours at home in iceland, seoul is a mature work that rewards multiple, contemplative listens.

amiina's songs are lush, performed using a table's worth of gadgetry and toy instruments, and their seamless fusion of new-age devices and centuries-old ones is one of the band's most bewitching features. i was reading about something called "steam punk" the other week, a style that mixes 1850s fashion with high-tech electronics, and it struck me that amiina is doing much the same in music. wikipedia (whose wisdom i once again acquiesce to) has a list of 18 instruments used by amiina, ranging from the aforementioned saw, to a baroque guitar (seen in the lower right-hand corner of the picture above), to a compact synthesizer (their live shows also have a ubiquitous macbook). watching amiina perform is like watching four one-man bands work together, such is the band's concentration and diligence as they build their songs.

somehow, it isn't surprising that "seoul," "ugla," and "ammaelis" are arguably amiina's best songs, each possessing a learned dignity and the allure of simplicity. with an innate appreciation for timing, amiina's songs are just long enough for you to be able to lose yourself in the music, gentle crescendos and repeated phrases that acknowledge amiina's debt to minimalist composing. ultimately, their songs are just happy, and that's the most appealing quality you could hope for.

"seoul" & "ammaelis"
the seoul 12" with a remix by frakkur is available at boomkat.

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