Review Summary: As Kentridge once said: Her absence filled the world.
Having recently discovered JFDR (aka Jófriður Ákadóttir, thanks to Sputnik and Mathias), I was pleased to discover that she has been involved in numerous side projects - I guess Iceland is a fairly small place. Aside from her role in the band Samaris, she also forms the duo Pascal Pinon with her twin sister Ásthildur Ákadóttir. The partnership takes its name from the circus performer Pasqual Piñón. A growth from Piñón's head gave the appearance of having two heads; one can but speculate on how this applies to the duo. A common theme in their recent music is the difficulty of being apart - and Sundur (meaning apart) explores that interconnectedness in light of the sisters living in different countries.
While Pascal Pinon weave electronic elements into their sound (as in JFDR’s solo work), their sparse folk leans slightly more towards organic instrumentation. On opener “Jósa & Lotta” (childhood nicknames), they include the demo as an introduction, developed before meeting in Amsterdam to complete the song. The piano is somber but also plays like light through white curtains; the sisters sing in hushed tentative harmony. The song almost suggests a guilt at pursuing separate lives. Whatever the true meaning, it is a beautiful mission statement for an album that questions the mystery of this assigned bond. Nature and natural cycles are a secondary theme, which then translate into the temporary nature of relationships. We seek out love, we move on when it ends, we hope to find something that feels like the certainty of our reflection. For these sisters, they have had this since birth –they know it exists but finding it again by accident is less than guaranteed.
Album highlight “Skammdegi” (Short days) refers to an Icelandic concept of the dark winter season. A simple guitar line runs through it, with the faintest carpet of white ambience underneath as the sisters sing together. The music slows down, perhaps as the season settles into deep Winter. Throughout the song it feels like the melodic lines are left faintly open; in the last quarter they decisively resolve the melody once in unison, and then again with Jófriður singing higher. I believe, without knowing, that this tiny shift is an expression of hope that Winter has broken.
“Babies” is formed from the rich full sound of a harmonium, with rattling debris as the more grounded component. Closer “Weeks” implements more diverse instrumentation, but it is a testament to the restraint shown in the arrangement that you can barely discern the tuba, bassoon and bird noises the duo say are there. I have no doubt that I’d miss them if they weren’t.
All of these songs feel edited to a degree that is hard to fathom, with only “Forest” and “Spider Light” seeming to escape sublimation. It is this discipline that creates an ache in all the music to be found here, perhaps no more that the penultimate track “Ást” (Love). Ásthildur accompanies Jófriður in the most traditional sense on the piano, but also weaves into the vocal without singing. Jófriður sounds like she is reaching out to this framework plaintively, and when it drops away to just a hand raking piano strings, her voice becomes a manifestation of absence. You cannot help but be moved.