A GUEST POSTING from C
This is new to me. I‘ve nothing but admiration for anyone who’s ever contributed one of these much-celebrated ICAs. Now I’m delighted and honoured to present one too but, ohh – it’s so hard! Where to begin without tripping breathlessly over my words like an overexcited child? How to edit to just ten tracks? And then there’s the all-important running order!
I so want to do my chosen subject justice, to ‘sell’ her to you if you’re unfamiliar or undecided. I’m sure you know the feeling: when you really like someone, and you just want to share them and for everyone to love them as much as you do. Well, perhaps not everyone, not the masses, not those with indiscriminate tastes, as that might spoil the sense of being in on a special, precious secret. But I want us to share that secret.
I’m flitting – reminding myself of intros, outros. Will it flow? This one? Or that one? Scraps of paper with titles scribbled out, then scribbled back in. Adjectives jotted down, a Thesaurus by my side. I hadn’t realised how tough it is to really write about music rather than just present it and merely say it’s “great”, so hats off to all who do it regularly. How do I get across the effect it has on me, which I hope it will on you? I don’t know, but I’ll try. I trust the songs to do the rest.
So, I first heard Emiliana Torrini about 14 years ago, when a friend passed on a copy of the 1999 album ‘Love In The Time Of Science’ which they’d picked up (in a cheapie bin – sacrilege!) It wasn’t Emiliana’s first album, but neither of us had heard of her before – probably because her previous ones had only come out in her native Iceland. ‘Love In The Time Of Science’ was, however, the first to be released internationally as Emiliana had been signed up by our very own One Little Indian label, home to another Icelandic songstress, Björk.
And certainly when I played it the first time, I thought of Björk . There are similarities, as you might expect, in accent/intonation, plus a kindred playfulness in some songs and a darker, slightly creepy edge in others. Emiliana’s voice is sweeter and warmer, though, and she doesn’t push it to the extent that Björk does. (This sounds weird, but I visualise the way Emiliana sings her notes as being like pegging washing to a line, whereas Björk puts hers in the tumble dryer. Does that make sense?!) The more you listen, the more you hear that difference.
Even if you haven’t heard Emiliana’s name before, it’s very possible that you already know her voice from somewhere – she featured on Thievery Corporation’s ‘The Richest Man In Babylon’ album, collaborated with Steve Mason and Toy, she’s the vocalist on ‘Gollum’s Song’ from ‘Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers’ and several of her songs have been included in TV series such as ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’. And did you know she co-wrote Kylie Minogue’s ‘Slow’? (No, me neither, until I started this…)
But let’s begin at the beginning, with the first song I ever heard…
1. To Be Free (from ‘Love In The Time Of Science’, 1999)
“Who is Emiliana Torrini?” I thought as I pressed Play. I couldn’t tell anything from the cover (a close-up of her lovely, freckled face), nor from the name. But the moment this opening track started I was intrigued and hooked. There’s something surreal about it, especially in the delivery of its slightly odd lyrics. Listening to this again nearly 20 years after its release, I’m more aware of the trip-hop rhythms (I’ve also seen it described as ‘progressive house’) yet the song is unconventional and infinitely enduring. A No. 1 in Iceland, it was released as a single in the UK but only reached No. 44.
2. Lifesaver (from ‘Fisherman’s Woman’, 2005)
This isn’t a chronological ICA – I’m going purely for an aesthetically pleasing order! – so I’m fast-forwarding 6 years. The trip-hop/electronic sound has gone and ‘Fisherman’s Woman’ is an album steeped in subtle, acoustic nuance in which Emiliana’s songwriting has been likened to a female Nick Drake.
‘Lifesaver’ is quiet, understated, yet full of atmosphere… the inclusion of the rather eerie sound of a creaking boat is inspired.
3. Tookah (from ‘Tookah’, 2013)
I didn’t know what a ‘tookah’ is either, so I looked it up (it’s not a bird.) Emiliana made this word up to describe the ‘core’ of a person “… before life decorated you like a Christmas tree with all the baggage”. I appreciate what she means (and we all know how heavy those baubles can be, let alone chocolate penguins). This is one of those darker, slightly creepy songs I mentioned; a little unsettling. When she stretches out that word ‘tookah’ she puts me in mind of Siouxsie.
4. Wednesday’s Child (from ‘Love In The Time Of Science’, 1999)
Written by Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears (he also produced this album with Alan Griffiths, who sadly died earlier this year), there’s a hint of soul groove about this track, a bit of a Hammond organ sound going on and some retro “pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa…”s – but then it throws you off with a few lines of spacey synthesized vocal as well. Extra love for including the delightfully descriptive word ‘scatterbrain’.
5. Speed Of Dark (from ‘The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini’, 2017)
Emiliana is currently touring with Belgian duo, the Colorist, and they’ve just released this live album, in which a selection of songs from her back catalogue are given new treatment with orchestral backing. I adore the original version, but my ICA (which comes in imaginary purple vinyl, by the way) is going to end Side 1 with this updated rendition because it’s an epic track to finish on before you flip it over, hopefully leaving you satisfied on the one hand, but looking forward to a mood shift on Side 2. If you like The The’s wonderful ‘Giant’ I think you’ll like this.
6. Nothing Brings Me Down (from ‘Fisherman’s Woman’, 2005)
I promised a mood change and Emiliana’s vocal is breathtakingly pure in this languid, seductive song. It’s charged with the heat of a Summer evening and understated sensuality. If you’re male, Emiliana is singing just for you. And if you’re female, then right now you are her, in a flimsy cotton dress and bare feet, lying in a hammock on a wooden porch with your glass of Pinot Grigio, a little tipsy and…. well, there’s something undeniably erotic about the line, “my love for you is ready”…
7. When We Dance (from ‘The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini’, 2017)
A completely new track from the Colorist collaboration. It’s enchanting with a lilting chorus, some double-tracked vocals and lush orchestration; my current earworm!
8. Caterpillar (from ‘Tookah’, 2013)
This makes me cry. That’s a good thing. To my ears it’s just exquisite. I love the little bass motif that appears only twice, once in the middle and once at the end, both times just so briefly before it hangs. One of my favourite songs ever (even with tears).
9. Unemployed In Summertime (from ‘Love In The Time Of Science’, 1999)
It’s funny how you can often tell when someone’s smiling when they talk or sing even if you can’t see their face, so I can imagine Emiliana grinning throughout this joyous paean to friendship and those carefree Summers of our youth. It’s playful, feminine and evocative, with references to getting drunk, getting sunburned, waking up with make-up all over your face and doing the sex quiz from your friend’s magazine – we’ve all been there. (Haven’t we?) This could almost be a Saint Etienne song – it’s in the same league of classy, honest pop with unpretentious lyrics.
10. Summerbreeze (from ‘Love In The Time Of Science’, 1999)
Not to be confused with the other Summer Breeze! There is something so timeless about this, something quite traditional. A sweet (but not saccharine) and wistful love song, what better way to end an imaginary compilation album? An imaginary me in an imaginary world wants to sing this to an imaginary someone.
There are so many others I could have chosen, like the immense Bond theme-like ‘Telepathy’, and two personal favourites ‘Sunny Road’ and ‘Autumn Sun’,but sacrifices had to be made! I do hope you enjoyed it nonetheless.
JC writes…..This contribution emerged from an e-mail in which C made the observation that there weren’t many female artists among the ICAs and that she was willing to address the situation. I’ve long been an admirer of what C does over at her own place and was thrilled to receive such an offer. The result is one of the best and most interesting ICAs I’ve ever had with the artist in question being completely new to me.