Emiliana Torrini, the Icelandic siren who gave us “Gollum’s Song” has returned from Middle Earth to grace ours once more with her new album, Me & Armini. Finding a comfortable compromise between the alien electronica of 2000’s Love in the Time of Science and the sparse acoustics of 2005’s Fisherman’s Woman, it’s a warmer, more eclectic effort than either of its predecessors. This ends up working for and against the singer-songwriter. While Armini arguably showcases her at her most confident and human-sounding, the third stylistic shift in just as many albums makes one suspect that she is struggling for a distinctive sonic identity.
That’s not to say she isn’t looking in interesting places. This time around, Torrini expands her horizons a bit more, playing with dub-drenched reggae (the title track, an older, wiser sister to Lily Allen’s “Smile”), lo-fi garage rock (“Gun,” which practically begs for a Torrini appearance on Josh Homme’s next Desert Session), and even folksy Appalachia (the opening “Fireheads”). Her earlier, trip-hoppier sound evolves into sultry torch balladry on album highlight “Heard it All Before,” which is set against an assertive, desynchronized backbeat and evokes the jazzier moments of Zero 7. Appropriately, the instrumentation takes on more a kitchen-sink approach to accommodate throughout, giving everything a far less solitary quality than her past efforts.
Torrini is able to get away with such exploration because her voice is both versatile and amiable enough to lend itself to a variety of styles. She often draws comparisons to fellow countrywoman Björk, which is definitely still applicable here — particularly on numbers like penultimate track “Dead Duck” and the aforementioned “Before”— if a little dismissive to both artists. Unlike Björk, Torrini doesn’t yet know how to stick to her strengths, challenge herself and others, or respect her limitations. Her efforts at scatting on “Big Jumps” and “Jungle Drum” not only distract from her voice’s natural beauty but also betray her often weak lyrics, which raise yet another suspicion that perhaps Torrini can’t settle on one sound for too long because she lacks anything interesting to say.
Whether or not that’s the case, there’s not enough here to dissuade listeners who enjoyed her in the past. Hers is a likeable if unremarkable sound that no doubt fills many a coffee shops and bookstores on a lazy Sunday afternoon and will continue to do so as long as she continues filling the right musical voids at the right time. If she wants to move out of the shops and cafes and into a more universal consciousness though, she may want to stop filling those niches and start making her own. Perhaps that’s another lesson she could take from Björk.