As might be intuited from the title, much of Fjall was recorded in Reykjavik, with tender textures added from Tallahassee. (Okay, that last part might be a surprise.) On this album, Jared Smith continues to contribute the homespun weavings that made last year’s Home, a collaboration with Darren Harper, such a success. He’s undergone a name change from Smyth to Smith, but his sound remains personal and plainspoken.
Just as that album incorporated local field recordings, the new recording incorporates the sonic souvenirs of international travel: bicycle bells, tire treads, thunder, conversation, coffee. Because similar sounds can be found throughout the world, Smith demonstrates that any location can be treated as home once one becomes acclimated. While one might not recognize the specific sound of a different person’s door or a different city’s church chimes, when one hears such sounds, one thinks of one’s own door or one’s own local chimes, and grows comforted as a result. “Tracing Curves Below” offers the sweet sound of a local river, but most people have rivers nearby that they have not visited for a while. By connecting the exotic with the ordinary, Smith leads his listeners to rediscover the hidden lands within their own communities.
Smith gives equal sonic space to ambient chords and clear guitar notes, a combination of flannel warmth and bedtime song. Light electronics fall like a daily dusting of Icelandic snow. In Reykavik, all is in motion year-round, no matter what the weather, while the island’s center sleeps beneath a blanket of white even in the midst of summer. In every town throughout the nation, one can see the fjöll (mountains), an aspect of the landscape that defines the national character. Even in the worst times – and Iceland has had a few in recent years – residents need only look up to remember that beauty lies at the heart of the world. The thought is crystallized in this gentle, graceful release. (Richard Allen)