As a member of Icelandic collective Seabear, Sóley Stefánsdóttir shared in the creation of numerous catchy pop gems, including “I Sink, I Swim”, “Arms” and “I’ll Build You a Fire.” Having had the opportunity to catch Seabear live at Iceland Airwaves, I can attest to the enthusiasm shared by band and audience ~ the former interacting with the crowd, the latter raising their hands and singing along. Branching out after the last album, Sóley then released her own Theatre Island EP and album We Sink, which managed to sound simultaneously warm and spooky. Slower and more sedate than Seabear, Sóley’s early solo work adopted a playfully gothic sensibility: “I took all your birds and I smashed them in my pocket, oh ~ and then I cut the feathers off and I made myself a beautiful dress.”
And so it is a surprise ~ but also the mark of an extraordinary artist ~ that Sóley’s follow-up travels further down the road of eclecticism. After making us fall in love with her voice, she removes it, producing an EP of shaded piano miniatures. By pruning every obvious element, she’s left only the skeletal mood. Pared to its essence, Krómantík becomes a statement of soft menace. Sóley writes, “Imagine a little out-of-tune piano in one corner, then imagine old hands. Those hands will play until Krómantík fades into silence and your closed eyes slowly start seeing something much deeper and darker.” The slightly detuned notes of “Stiklur” and miked squeaks of “Fantasía” launch us into this sinister world, which conjures images of a carnival after hours. The melodies are carried on minor keys, which adds to the sense of disorientation; the most fitting accompaniment might be an out-of-tune whistle. The shortest track, “Kaósmúsík”, acts as the calliope at the center of the set. Sóley’s wordless singing on the title track is invitation and siren call; we’ve no idea what lies behind the curtain, but we have to see.
When the tents have all been taken down, the trucks have pulled away, and the dust has settled into the earth, we can still hear those old hands. We turn to our companion, ready to speak, then realize we are standing alone. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 18 July