Veronique Vaka – Erlendis [Moderna Records]

Erlendis means “abroad” in Icelandic, and that is just where cellist & composer Veronique Vaka finds herself both literally and metaphorically after studying electro-acoustic composition at the University of Montreal and receiving a grant from Canada Council of Arts for a mentorship in Iceland.  She has been involved in a number of projects over the past two years, including the release of an EP called Tveir heimar  (“two worlds”) in 2013.  If you are not already familiar with her work, then her newest recording being released by fledgling label Moderna Records should grab your attention and keep it.

With 5 songs and a running time under 30 minutes, Erlendis is technically an EP, but it would be hard to overstate how absorbing and immersive those minutes spent listening become.  Vaka proves to be an imaginative composer and capable multi-instrumentalist supported by a variety of ensemble performers and the Icelandic pedigree is indelibly stamped courtesy of additional instrumentation and mixing by Alex Somers  (Parachutes, Jonsi & Alex).  The expansive embrace of mysterious ambient and majestic modern classical sounds is definitely present here,

The aching strings and haunting voice of ‘Minning um himinn’ (‘the memory of the sky”) which opens the record are instantly spellbinding. The aura here is quite reminiscent of the gentler moments of Valtari by Sigur Ros (perhaps not uncoincidentally also produced by Somers).  ‘Verndari’ (“protector”) was co-written by Vaka with her husband Björn Pálmi Pálmason of Rökkurró and allows the string ensemble to shine before a slow into deep and quiet reflection guided only by piano and field recordings. It is a splendid piece of music.

With the listener now immersed in the stillness of the sonic landscape, ‘Hvönn’ (“angelica”) continues the patient journey. It sounds as if it might be emulating the blooming of its namesake flower as a somber, heavily textured drone slowly gives way to shimmering, tender piano lines.  At this point the album is itself in full bloom and reaches skyward with the celestial choral voices featured in ‘Gætni’ (“care”).  The melancholic tones of the clarinet in ‘Vestur’ (“west”) then brings the listener gently to the ground and closes the proceedings.

For those who enjoy the music of Icelandic icons such as Olafur Arnalds and Sigur Ros, Erlendis holds its own in their company and should not be missed. Available now as a digital download from the Moderna Bandcamp store.

Order: http://modernarecords.bandcamp.com/album/erlendis

Release info: http://modernarecords.com/veronique-vaka-erlendis

Featured track: ‘Verndari’

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