Hildur Hildur Gudnadóttir – Saman (Touch)


This, Hildur Gudnadóttir’s fourth album on Touch, sees the cellist blending her layered instrumentation with delicately evocative vocals. Aptly named Saman, which according to Touch, means ‘together’, the union of the instruments is a successful one, with each part resting on thoughtful progressions and restrained delivery to produce a cohesive, but perhaps slightly underdeveloped, album.

The timbre of the solo cello lends itself to the introspective and even sombre emotions at play here, accentuated by the spacious, not quite sparse, arrangement. While Saman does not rely on studio trickery or grandiose virtuosity to propel the experience, it is nonetheless a cinematic production that both captures the intimacy of the deft enunciation of the cello, while at the same creating the august yet ethereal soundstage in which the often uneasy compositions reside.

Saman opens with the long bowed notes of ‘Strokur’, effectively introducing the emotional landscape of the album. It is an invitation to listen closely, with the rich harmonics of the instrument demanding the ear’s attention. There is no promise of an easy experience though, with this track’s contrasting dynamics and plaintive melodies being underpinned by a finely developed structural arrangement, highlighting it as one of the album’s finest pieces.

Acoustic drones envelop a fleeting vocal melody, and the second track, ‘Frá’, is gone as quickly as it came. This brevity is a feature of this album, with six of the 12 tracks clocking in at under three minutes. ‘Frá’ is served well by this concise approach, but elsewhere tracks are left like snippets of an overheard conversation, leaving me quite wistful for how the composition could have developed.

Elsewhere the dreamy arpeggiations of ‘Heima’ are accentuated by Hildur’s breathy, somewhat quivering vocals, combining to great effect. The arrangement shapes to great effect the sense of unease afforded by a sublimely structured chromatic vocal melody that is in equal parts light and dark. The shade is certainly stronger in the following track, though – ‘Birting’ utilises a descending ostinato to develop the tension to almost breaking point, and its release into the opening of ‘Rennur upp’ is surely the thematic crescendo of the album.

Saman‘s sub 40 min playing length does not allow the listening experience to outstay its welcome, however its succinctness tends to accentuate the brevity of some of the tracks contained therein. There is a lack of resolution present throughout, in which the silence between the pieces is filled with the slight unease of things not yet finished. Nonetheless Saman is an intriguing album that rewards the listener by being as engaging intellectually as it is emotionally, and marks another fine release from Touch and Hildur Gudnadóttir.


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