October 1, 2022

Amina – Aminamina (EP – The Workers Institute)

It’s safe to assume that anyone coming to this EP with absolutely no foreknowledge about where they came from or what their background was would find themselves thinking, hmmm, there’s something very familiar about this, and, once they’d been enlightened, they’d go, oh yes, of course.

To those of us hardened hacks who are forearmed with such knowledge, it’s difficult, nay impossible, to bring to this listening the kind of exclusive attention we’d bring to a completely new group coming out of nowhere – it’s the kids hippopotamus conundrum – you know – you challenge the kids not to think about hippopotamuses, then ask them what they’re thinking about.

So – can a group of Reykjavik (clue #1) music students who had jammed together as a string quartet at college and were then asked to accompany on tour, as backing instrumentalists, a major Icelandic group (clue #2), two of whose members subsequently encouraged them to make this EP and contributed substantial studio, production, and mastering input really be considered as anything other than a bunch of superlucky young women who’ve (perfectly legitimately – and good luck to ’em) tried turning themselves from a session band into something else – let’s not call it a Sigur Rós concession band, because that suggests something rather manipulative – but if not, what?

The honest answer has to be – not yet.

There’s barely eighteen minutes of music here – four tracks – that begin, in Skakka, with the engagingly wry juxtaposition of a sample of a crackling fire with one of those Iceland-typical tuned-stalactite-sounding music-box-ey melodies that seems to say, ok, we all know the cliché – fire and ice, ice and fire, let’s just get that one over with and get on with the music – before moving into track 2 – Hemipode – where an alt.folk tune gets sandwiched, on some double-tracked malleted instrument, in between the stretched tonal extremes of the string instruments – almost screechingly strained violin and abyssally-deep-plucked cello, before the rest of the strings enter to send the tune lilting off along some chilly sheep-track between lava-field and moraine. If the Northern Lights made a sound, it would be something like this third track – Fjarskanistan – an undulating curtain of Steiner-soft sound-colours gently wafting against a tinkling background of stars, and in Blaskjar, the final track, we’re back to continuing that Hemipode alt.folk stroll through the meadow where we find ourselves discreetly accompanied by a particularly sweet song-thrush, or some native Arctic equivalent.

Aminamina is something that all lovers of the Icelandic Princelings will have to have, as it represents (yet) another aspect of Jónsi and Kjartan’s extraordinary capability- a kind of selective Midas Touch from which, for example, The Album Leaf benefited in bucketsful in last year’s In A Safe Place. In reality, it’s probably something so simple (O to be a fly on the wall at some of these studio sessions), a series of ‘why don’t we just try this’ moments that accumulate into – well – something like this. I don’t think it’s being disrespectful to the four members of Amina to say this – they, after all, provided the base material from which this EP has been produced – but it’s so obviously been touched with the kind of wand that transforms base metals into gold, and it’s so obvious whose wand that is and who was waving it.

Amina plan to release a full-length in the autumn. Aminamina is a delicious appetiser, meanwhile – simple, modest, unpretentious, undemanding, but as toothsome and distinctive as a plate of ceviche served with warm bread and a shot of firewater.