Few instruments are as affordable and versatile as the theremin, yet few people play it and fewer still play it well. Iceland’s Hekla has risen to the top of her field by matching the instrument with dark cello, crushing soundscapes and her own distinctive voice. Sure, one still thinks of classic Ed Wood movies while spinning Xiuxiuejar (to whisper), but there’s something darker present, as intimated by the cover art and visualizer video. Xiuxiuejar doesn’t sound right until the sun is starting to set; one track is even titled “Sólin Gekk” (“The Sun Went Down”), while others are named “In Silence” and “The Hole.” The latter track ~ the album closer ~ is one of two with English titles, the other being opener “The Whole,” winking homonyms implying a narrative arc or cycle.
If the LP is a whisper, one might ask, “what is it whispering?” Some spots boil like magma; others flow like lava. Notes dangle like huldufólk from occluded branches. The rough drone of “Hrakföll” (“Concussions”) implies that someone has followed the trail too long, dug too deep, turned over one stone too many. While the set is dominated by instrumentals, Hekla does whisper, notably on first single “In Silence,” and when she sings, she does so softly; but at the end, Óttarr Proppé chortles a sinister invitation … come to the hole, let it cover you up … words that sounded far less intimidating in the siren tones of the opener, when all was carefree and the listener was bounding through the well-lit forest, oblivious to the danger of the path. In retrospect, the bass of “Enn og Aftur” sounds like a warning, the slowness of “Sólin Gekk” like the sadness of inevitability, an augury of regret.
While Xiuxiuejar is not an easy listen, it is an alluring listen, the aural version of an Icelandic folk tale. The traveler ignores the warning signs, trades rationality for impulse, chases the frost giant’s daughter, and is done in by their own desires, covered by the hole. (Richard Allen)