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Samaris triumph with a clinical twist on their formula

"Black Lights"

Album of the week
Samaris black lights art
06 June 2016, 09:30 Written by Laurence Day
Samaris aren’t fucking about. Their new album Black Lights is a laser-guided anthology aimed at your soul. In many ways it’s the same Samaris we’ve come to know and love, but in many others it’s a revolutionary twist of their formula.

Black Lights was written and recorded separately over the course of a year with the band split across three different countries – Þórður Kári Steinþórsson jumped into Berlin's techno scene, Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir studied “a specialised Sonology course” in The Hague, while Jófríður Ákadóttir was exploring Irish music and culture.

It's a fragmented approach for sure – but Samaris' new record is not a sprawling mess suffering an identity crisis. This is the band's most sonically cohesive collection of songs. The tracks often slip and blur into one another, slipping in hypnagogic ways like oil across water, working as a singular movement with subtle shifts and gradual changes.

The German immersion of Doddi – aka Steinþórsson – is clearly felt. Samaris have stripped much of the 'Icelandic'-sounding flesh from their music. The clarinet is used in much more inventive ways, samples are frequent, and the beats are paramount. The folk elements are banished. Samaris need a whole new set of adjectives – no more references to cold weather or The Great Outdoors.

Black Lights is tense, sometimes claustrophobic, and overtly clinical. It is sticky. It's sweaty and oddly sensual in places. It's constructed for intimacy and introspection. “Gradient Sky” is a beautiful moment of clarity that cuts through the thick textures and misty atmospheres, but by and large, Samaris have steered away from the expansive sounds of before in favour of something much more personal and grounded.

Black Lights is streamlined, but not exactly minimalist, as vibrant textures and tangled layers are still frequent. It brings their ambient and electronic ideas together with slickly produced dance music, leaving flotsam and jetsam by the wayside and marching forth with only the essentials in tow.

Black Lights is the most direct record Samaris have released. Gone are esoteric offerings found on Silkidrangar or their eponymous debut, and gone are the lyrics inspired by 19th century Icelandic poetry. Instead we're given an album galvanised by “a period of change and... emotional turmoil” sung entirely in English.

Change is easily felt throughout the record, and you can get a sense that all's not quite perfect. It's not a traditionally uplifting record, and you'll probably find richer rewards listening solo through headphones rather than through a club's soundsystems – even though the driving rhythms might imply otherwise. “Wanted2Say”'s percussion hints at '90s jungle, but it's drenched in yearning and narcotic melodies. “3y3” is erratic and haywire and touches on Arca – albeit far less mutated – but it's also otherworldly, glistening in the moonlight. Black Lights' best moments come during these moments of juxtaposition, where the conventional borders of genre come crashing down.

Samaris have produced an album that takes great strides forwards, showcasing a mature side that's capable of direct emotion and unexpected experiment. It is different from what we've heard before, but even with a gestation period characterised by distance and separation, this feels like the most rounded work they've presented so far. Samaris have succeeded in creating something staggering, and their next steps seem truly exciting.

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