Associations can be a tricky thing to overcome, and the four Icelandic women of Amiina might have a tough time building an identity outside of their long history as Sigur Ros's backing string quartet. But that relationship doesn't accurately forecast the sound of the group's debut full-length CD, "Kurr" (named for the sound of a bird's coo). Although Amiina, like its Sigur Ros brethren, certainly captures the delicate serenity of its homeland, the musicians have branched beyond the string instruments for which they are most well-known.
Keyboards, guitars and glockenspiels complement their string foundation without disrupting the fragility of their compositions. "Blafeldur" features the humming of horns like a faraway processional, and "Seoul" closes with the stunning ripples of arpeggiated bells. Even with those complementary sounds, though, the group's strings are not forgotten, as they pulse through the lush drone of "Sexfaldur" and dance beneath the women's soft, wordless chants on "Rugla." Such serene instrumentals are so often branded as film scores, but Amiina's delicate textures make the songs seem more like lullabies to nature than mere background music.
David Karsten Daniels sings lullabies of a different kind; his dry voice blends Will Oldham's throaty twang with Devendra Banhart's nearly spoken drawl. Daniels's quiet, repetitive delivery on his CD "Sharp Teeth" makes "Jesus and the Devil" sound like a familiar campfire singalong, but the cynicism of his lyrics ("I saw Jesus and the Devil; they looked just the same") gives a darker edge to his indie-folk sound.
-- Catherine P. Lewis