Iceland is a place of many wonders. If you haven't learned of its magic from post-rock legends Sigur Rós, perhaps Pascal Pinon can provide a more accessible gateway into that. The Icelandic indie folk duo's third record Sundur is just that, caked with a pop sweetness shrouded with wonder.
The sounds of Iceland are unique. Pascal Pinon borrows harmonies from the likes of Björk to build haunting melodies that are hard to ignore; sweet harmonies make the opening track 'Jósa & Lotta' as they dance above sweet piano and ambience. Piano plays an important roll on the record - its atmosphere is a big part of what makes the songs sound mysterious. Key in to the piano on 'Spider Light', an instrumental focussing on the relationship of a metallic beat and somber piano. The sound of the piano itself throughout the record is longing and reminiscent, allowing for it to sound barren and cold, yet surrounded in mystery - the essence of Iceland.
Piano isn't the only thing that builds the character of Sundur, though. 'Skammdegi', a song sung in Icelandic, uses a clean guitar to add atmosphere instead, and a Sufjan Stevens synth to help it. Acoustic guitar does the same in '53', the piano taking a minor role in this one as acoustic guitar and vocals on top of distant electronics take you into a dreamy oblivion.
Through all the sadness this album may have, there are moments of happiness. 'Orange' may have that familiar sadness, but its recognizable, almost tangible. Its a sadness that's known to us all, but what it means will change. That's bittersweet, at least. 'Forest' has a poppier vibe than much of the rest of the album, dinky beats on top of a tangy synth lends itself to sound generally happy. The rest of the song doesn't sound like its jumping for joy, but it has a lot more hope than much of the rest of the record.
There are moments on the record that provide some freshness, too, albeit, most are minor. The dark sounds of 'Twax' seems like a sunset on a normal day in a small town of Iceland. The ambience of synths and xylophone that pair with a bunch of different sounds make this song sound uneasy - windchimes, bells, and more can be heard in this song, which transitions into a song with the same setting and windchimes, 'Babies', which ends up with sounds that seem to spiral out. 'Fuglar' is an odd track, and one of the album's most experimental. It's organ and brass intro starts nice but as electronics try to mesh with the harmonies, it's a bit off putting. It loops sweetly but lacks cohesion that brought together a lot of the record.
Sundur is the sound of Iceland is a poppier light. Sigur Rós' barren soundscapes show the isolation of Iceland's creations, while Pascal Pinon show its welcoming emptiness. It's all a familiar adventure. Sundur isn't perfect, but it's understanding, and that's all you could want from Iceland.
Favorite Tracks: Spider Light, Skammdegi, Orange, 53
Least Favorite Track: Fuglar
Rating: 75 / 100