valgeir sigurðsson Draumalandid (LP, £18.95)label: Bedroom Community
Valgeir Sigurdsson's 2010 release is now finally released on vinyl. Valgeir is the founder of Greenhouse Studios, Iceland’s top recording facility established in 1997, where in addition to Björk, he has collaborated with artists such as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Feist, Damon Albarn, Camille, CocoRosie, Ben Frost, Sam Amidon, múm, Hilary Hahn & Hauschka, Brian Eno, Sigur Rós and many others. In 2005 he founded the Bedroom Community record label launching the recording career of Nico Muhly and producing and releasing albums by Ben Frost and Sam Amidon. Valgeir Sigurdsson has made his name as an exponent of musical subtlety. As an engineer and producer, he's often focused on the intimate, the miniature. On his solo debut Ekvílibríum, his songwriting and composition tended towards the muted or the oblique. His best-known work is punctuated with question marks and ellipses, and the rare exclamation point. But this is only one side of his musical capabilities. Draumalandid (“Dreamland”), a documentary about the exploitation of Iceland's natural resources, tells a story about huge things-the fortunes of a whole nation; the destruction of vast landscapes; and the global economic forces, greater still than any nation, that fuel it all-and for his soundtrack to the film, Valgeir has brought out a heavier set of tools. His entire roster of Bedroom Community labelmates contributes in some way to the creation of the score: classical composers Nico Muhly and Daníel Bjarnason, industrial wizard Ben Frost, and American folksinger Sam Amidon, along with a host of others, and the small orchestra assembled for the record swells from moments of expansive beauty into massive, surging symphonic force. Its harmonies are anxious, pulsing, driven. Not that this is an album lacking in subtlety. Draumalandid the film takes on the delicate task of unmasking the apparent win/win proposition of Iceland's aluminum smelting boom-clean energy! new jobs! economic growth!-as a false blessing with very real consequences. Likewise, Draumalandid the soundtrack takes global, at times seemingly abstract questions, and offers deeply personal responses. Valgeir's score makes fierce and direct statements of sorrow and indignation, but it also expresses, with a kind of hushed awe, the beauty of landscapes on the brink of devastation, and the seductive shimmer of the illusions that imperil them. Tender, fragmented melodies rise out of uncanny musical textures; in the album's opening track, Sam sings “GryÅLlukvaedi,Åh an Icelandic folk tune about a greedy hag come to devour naughty children, just as he would an Appalachian ballad, and in turn Valgeir reframes it as a sad, sympathetic reprimand to a people (Icelanders, yes, but by extension all of humanity) who would sell their birthright to a rapacious multinational. This is all painted in brushstrokes broad and minute, from palette of hugely varied shades - Sam's banjo playing, Daníel's John Cage-style piano treatments, Ben's halos of distortion - but somehow, it all fits together as a coherent musical argument. Heard as an accompaniment to the film, the Draumalandid score can disappear into the images and the narrative. Listened to on its own, it rewards close attention: for the subtle interconnections between the movements, for their cumulative emotional force, and simply as a series of meticulously scored and recorded musical moments, urgent meditations on the natural sublime.
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