Hildur Guðnadóttir is a gifted Icelandic cellist who is best known for her collaborations with Pan Sonic and post rock group múm. Along with múm, Sigur Rós, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Skúli Sverrisson, Guðnadóttir has helped breathe life into Iceland’s vibrant experimental music scene. “Without Sinking” —her second solo album and her first on the Touch label— is a wonderful addition, one that cements her status among this group of gifted musician-composers. In “Without Sinking”, she’s produced a deeply moving album that should reach a large audience—from orchestral music enthusiasts to fans of experimental electronica.
The album features Guðnadóttir’s cello, which is layered, lightly processed, and overdubbed to create a rich and melancholy musical tapestry. Collaborations with Skúli Sverrisson, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Guðni Franzson are integrated in an organic way, matching the cello’s somber tone and creating a sense of slow movement.
Guðnadóttir aimed to create an album that contrasted lighter, spacious compositions with denser and heavier compositions. She sought, in her own words, “to create a sky and cloud-like feeling” throughout the album. Lighter compositions foreground individual notes that float, Guðnadóttir states, “like single clouds in a clear sky.” These are contrasted by denser compositions that seek to evince a “more thundercloud-like” feeling. There is a pensive, somber, and almost wintry touch to most of the compositions. So even though she describes her aim as creating a sky and cloud-like feeling, perhaps it is more apt to state that her album conjures images of frigid and inaccessible—but beautiful—arctic landscapes.
“Without Sinking”, as such, was never intended to feature memorable musical phrases. There are few identifiable “hooks.” In fact, only a few tracks have clear melodic lines—“Erupting Light,” “Opaque,” “Ascent,” and “Into Warmer Air.” Some might find this disconcerting, as compositions lacking strong melodic progressions seem better fit for cinematic scores than for a standalone album. But this only adds to the album’s aesthetic charm. By creating compositions that emphasize space and depth, Guðnadóttir draws the listener into Without Sinking’s emotional musical landscape.
She hooked me immediately. The album’s first track, “Elevation,” features a languid cello build over a soft, pulsing background. While slow, “Elevation” is both graceful and beautiful in its restraint. The following two tracks, “Overcast” and “Erupting Light,” continue this sense of unhurried build. With “Ascent,” perhaps my favourite track, Guðnadóttir explores both the cello’s lower and higher registers to dramatic effect. In its higher register, the cello moans a melancholic but gorgeous tone, reminding me why I see the cello as the king of string instruments. Other excellent tracks include “Opaque” and “Into Warmer Air.” In both of these tracks, Guðnadóttir quickens the pace and shapes a percussive background, over which the cries of her cello seem to soar.
Without Sinking is a fantastic album. It is deeply engaging, and is cohesive in its musical narrative. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest store to pick it up. [Jeremy Yellen]
released October 27, 2013
Composed and recorded by Hildur Ingveldardóttir Gudnadóttir in Berlin and Reykjavík. Hildur played cello, zither, processors and voice.
Additional recordings by Skúli Sverrisson; bass and processors on all tracks except track 7, Jóhann Jóhannsson; organs and processors on tracks 2, 3 and 9 and Gudni Franzson; clarinet and bass clarinet on tracks 7 and 10.
Cello no. 49 was made by David Wiebe in 1991.
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