Album Review: Pascal Pinon – Sundur

Black and white image of the band Pascal Pinon

Pascal Pinon prove that absence makes their songwriting grow stronger with the chilling beauty of new album’ Sundur’.

If Pascal Pinon’s 2013 album ‘Twosomeness’ was about sisters Ásthildur and Jófríður Ákadóttir being together, new album ‘Sundur’ – from the Icelandic proverb “sundur og saman” meaning “apart and together” – reflects on their separation. While Ásthildur went to Amsterdam to study classical piano and composition, later returning to their native Iceland, Jófríður went on a world tour with her other band Samaris. The separation was voluntary but it clearly influenced their writing process, which took nearly two years of visiting each other in order to collaborate on their compositions.

Separation may have made for a trickier writing process, but on ‘Sundur’ the siblings have taken any feelings of distance and distilled these into an intimate and beautifully minimal take on ethereal folk music. The faraway sound of the fuzzy piano demo recording at the beginning of album opener ‘Jósa & Lotta’ before the piano melody kicks in with full volume and clarity seems to reflect the album theme as a whole. The coolness of distance and the warmth of a welcome reunion plays out like the shift from heartbreak to happiness.

The stripped-back nature of the music continues on ‘53’ as guitar picking accompanies the lyrics, which offer a consoling message for a boy that has lost his mother in tragic circumstances. It’s hard not to make a comparison to Björk when listening and I’m not just referring to the vocals – although the similarity in places is truly striking – but also Pascal Pinon’s storytelling talent and their ability to paint a vivid mental picture with their lyrics. Even when they are singing in Icelandic, as on ‘Skammdegi’, the haunting nature of their melodies and delicate vocals is beguiling.

The blend of instruments, and other unusual sounds, used throughout the album add to the charm. On ‘Twax’ the chiming bells, hum of drums and even a lawn mower give it the sound of a soothing lullaby. ‘Babies’ is another marriage of sounds – including harmonium drones and metal being struck that playfully imitates glockenspiels – creating a simultaneously uplifting and unsettling cinematic track.

‘Weeks’ is the climax and, appropriately, is a melancholy commentary on the passage of time, memory and separation. The electronic whirring, sounding like an alarm, provides an unnerving backdrop to reflect the disquiet of the lyrics – “you took my sanity” remains in my head long after the final track has concluded.

On ‘Sundur’ Pascal Pinon have created intimacy through their poignant lyrics, in their breathy vocals and during the moments of silence that surround the delicate refrains. It’s a masterclass in songwriting stripped bare and proof that, even when separated, they unite in creating beautiful and emotive music.

‘Sundur’ is out now via Morr Music.

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