If you’re not already swamped with minimalist Alaskan folk, here’s an addition to your collection you might want to consider. Apparently named after the Norse love goddess, Sjofn is a singer-songwriter who calls the Chugach Mountains of southern Alaska home and, like any self-respecting artist, is touring Iceland and Greenland this summer. Sjofn’s music brings words like simple, unadorned, and unpolished to mind, but it also has a specific and yet ethereal quality which invites serious thoughts on the subtle distinctions between those terms. Without a doubt, though, Secret is an album of small, unassuming and often bewitching music, not one to recommend unconditionally but undoubtedly an intriguing work as well as an insight into a cold, alien place.
Secret‘s cover implies that this is a one-girl-one-guitar record, rough-hewn from the atmosphere of those mountains. Certainly Sjofn’s plaintive acoustic is the dominant instrument here, but Paul Monsaratt’s clarinet also plays an unexpectedly key role, dancing quietly above the strumming. Percussion and a few electronic touches round out the sound instrumentally, but the most genuinely interesting sonic element on show is Sjofn’s own voice. One part American country drawl, one part singular Alaskan mystique, it’s distinctive but can take some time to get used to. In fact, these unadorned vocals and songs recall early Dylan, even if song titles like ‘Ordinary Girl’, ‘Let Me Be’ and ‘Work Song’ accurately indicate that Sjofn’s lyrical focus is on smaller things than the truths blowin’ in the wind; she prefers playing on her porch to anywhere else, after all.
Ultimately, although Sjofn’s origins and the idiosyncrasies they bring with them are fascinating, Secret is held back by its somewhat unvaried sonic palette which, so heavily reliant on a few ramshackle elements, tends to make the 44 minutes it lasts feel too long. The best five or six songs here would make a wonderful EP, stoking excited expectation of a more varied LP, but strung out to full-album length the fatigue can set in after the first seven or eight of the seventeen tracks on offer. Despite this shortcoming, Secret remains an interesting album and is no doubt worth a look for fans of folk from unusual climes.