‘Sundur’ from the Icelandic proverb “sundur og saman” (meaning “apart and together”) is a metaphysical concept that perfectly conveys the circumstantial reality in which Jófríõur & Ásthildur Ákadóttir, aka Pascal Pinon, have most recently found themselves. While the former was zipping around Europe and hanging out in Ireland recording sounds for the latest Samaris album, Black Lights, the latter repaired to Holland where she studied classical piano before returning to their native Iceland.
So it was that a pair of siblings, bonded by blood, love and friendship, found themselves apart for the first time in their young lives, and yet still very much ‘together in spirit’. It is this oxymoron that forms the thematic basis for their third and aptly named album, Sundur.
Sundur is a minimalist mesmerism; a multi-faceted miscellany, broken out into ambient acoustic, vintage, indigenous, ‘scrap metallica’ and the musical equivalent of Rivendell. In many respects this is “musique sans frontieres”, an experimentation the idiosyncratic kind of which I have never previously heard. An album of eleven tracks travelling in diverse directions, that cross over each other’s thematic boundaries without ever touching off each other. “Apart and together”.
The album’s opener is a track called ‘Jósa & Lotta’ – it doesn’t take Mensa membership to figure out that the protagonists are the Ákadóttir sisters. A subtle study of their close sibling bond, the intertwined disparity of the sisters’ relationship is highlighted by the effective use of the duet genre.
The song has a vintage, faded feel at the top, from which an archaic film is silently lifted revealing a clarity so true one can almost feel the sisters’ presence. Intimate and congenial, it’s as if Jósa & Lotta are sat side by side at a piano in your living room.
Jófríõur & Ásthildur Ákadóttir
Where the first track is about the living, the second, ‘53‘, is very much about loss, heartbreak, and resultant death. A deeply touching lament for “what will never be” it is both heavenly and deathly. At its core is a stark melody, enveloped by harmonies and delicately threaded by gently looping guitar picks & slides.
Lightening the mood somewhat is ‘Twax’, one of the two instrumental tracks on the album (the other is ‘Spider Light’). Chimes and chime bars form the crux of this jewellery box wonder.
Conjuring up a lone train ride around China, on which one is both driver and passenger, this piece of idiosyncratic experimentation is quite the journey. Background sonic traffic of some description gives it some shade. It’s a bit dotty, but I loved it all the more for that. In a word, ‘splendid’. Interestingly, the true definition of Twax is a world away from the planet onto which this track transports.
Two of Sundur’s most stunning compositions are its native language tracks, ‘Skammdegi’ and ‘Ást’.
‘Ást’, meaning ‘love’, is mesmerising… Fragmented piano sequences decorated with the odd dramatic flourish, and a lone earnest vocal; it is quite simply a thing of beauty.
‘Skammdegi’, meaning ‘midwinter’, is a vocal menagerie, untouchable in its fragility. A sublime confluence of two vocal streams, it is book-ended by sparse, clear instrumental lines. I don’t know what ‘Skammdegi’ is about. Truth be told, I don’t want to know. Part of its wonder is its otherworldly mystery.
Onto the black sheep of the family, ‘Babies’, and I think we’ve hit the bit with the aeroplane cast offs and scrap metal. After an iron-clad intro, the track opens into an accordion-filled blur of lengthy note depressions and drawn out bellows, dotted with a sparse twinkle and the odd metallic clank. Ending with a pattern of loops fanned by more found sounds. … I absolutely adore the novelty of this album!
Sundur is a jigsaw made up of eclectic, eccentric cuts from branches of music extending in diverse directions. Panels of instrumental, acoustic storytelling and kitchen-sink drama make up the lion’s share. Another such panel is made up of electronica in its most refined state. The instrumental backbone of ‘Forest‘ is essentially synth samples of hi-hat and ‘clave stick’ percussion, around which a growth of electro-knotweed has formed, itself illuminated by threads of flashing lights. A slightly fantastical tale of lost love, its earthy aboriginal percussion and repetitious sledgehammer fx create the darkly claustrophobic atmosphere that weighs down the singer’s broken heart, anchoring it on the opposite side of the ocean to where her ex-lover lies.
To call the type of music that Pascal Pinon create ‘folk’ would be trite beyond stupidity. Yes, it loiters around the edges of folkdom during its less adventurous moments, but its bare-cupboard, organic patina belies the magical micro-world that lies beneath. There can be more emotional depth and beauty in the simplest of crystal rosaries than in the most splendid of cathedrals. So it is with the music of Pascal Pinon.
Their loudest moments are those filled with the craziest of found sounds and the quirkiest of instruments. No amps blare across their minimalist staves. Pascal Pinon’s ‘less is more’ music is created from the soul, an idiosyncratic sound the magic of which lies in its ability to sieve love through restraint. Their album Sundur is a simple storyline that has made its way through the hiatus of physical separation, into a maze of musical quirks and personalities, to become a stirring account of humanity, love, loss, hope and above all, sisterhood.