Samaris offer cold comfort on Black Lights

Black LightsYou know the drill by now: minimalist future pop three piece, comprising the tried and tested set up of anxious knob-twiddler (Þórður Kári Steinþórsson, aka ‘Doddi’), vocalist who sounds like Bjork riding the mother of all comedowns (Jófríður Ákadóttir), and clarinet (Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir). Together, they set lyrics from 19th century Icelandic poems to skittery jungle beats and the kind of terse electronica that lesser hacks would probably describe as 'glacial'. Now they're releasing their first album in English, Black Lights, recorded between Reykjavik, Berlin, and somewhere in Ireland. Yeah, Samaris are pretty run of the mill. Did I mention one of them plays clarinet in the band?

After establishing that they actually exist outside the imagination of Peep Show's Super Hans, we find a record that arrives surprisingly on trend in its aims. Antony Hegarty's ANOHNI project proved that blending abrasive sonic landscapes with an outpouring of human emotion can produce dazzling effects, especially coupled with such an arresting narrative  - in her case, the living apocalypse of climate change. Perhaps that's what's missing on Black Lights. "Wanted 2 Say" is a genuinely brilliant opener, a little reminiscent of "Idioteque" in its combination of panicky beats and soft delay synth pads, and you can hear the emotion in Ákadóttir's voice ("What is the point of making it right?" she cries at one point; the hardest question to ask).

Deeper into the album, though, that urgency quickly dissipates into something considerably less focused. There are a few moments of lyrical engagement, such as the relationship metaphor of "T3mpo", or better still, "T4ngled"'s creeping suggestion of abuse: "Your eyes were wide open, your grip on me strong... it's easy for you to think that you do it for me." But they are cracks of daylight. Through lengthy swathes of the record, Black Lights strays close enough to minimalist detachment that it often detaches from the listener altogether; the title track was supposedly cut down from 15 minutes, though it still feels unwieldy at a third of that length.

As a result, what we're left with is an album lacking in both warmth and engagement, and there is little left to savour from the cold cuts. No doubt they're a talented collective, and the flashes of intrigue suggest a band capable of greater things. But without the kind of tangible narrative that threads together their contemporaries' work, I'm left with the sinking feeling of reaching the last chapter of a novel, only to discover that I don't care how it ends.

Release: 10th June 2016, One Little Indian

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