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Daníel Ágúst - Swallowed a Star

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Artist: Daníel Ágúst

Album: Swallowed a Star

Label: One Little Indian

Review date: Mar. 29, 2007

Daníel Ágúst was once one of the main songwriters for Gus Gus, the late-1990s Icelandic collective that strove to splice indie-pop melodies with insistent dance rhythms, cinematic expressiveness with disco hedonism. Here on his first solo album, electro-flourishes are subtle and totally removed from the dance aesthetic. There are, for one thing, no drums at all, and only the subtlest synthetic beats. In fact, the main accompaniment to Ágúst's wispy pop melodies is a full-on string quartet, whose swooning sustained tones and edgy pizzicato's define his songs as much as the vocals. "Here inside the core / cellos play," observes Ágúst in the title cut, his lyrics melting into dreamy wordless vocals around vibrating string swoops. On the pseudo-tango “The Moss,” he sings "Take me to the amorphous," seemingly bent on escaping the conventional bounds of time signature and structure.

The string quartet can be a sweetening element, or it can lend a necessary gravity and drama to Ágúst's songs. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine this album exciting anyone without them. Another aide is the production work from fellow Icelander Bix, who has remixed albums for Madonna and Beck. His "Stingray," the album’s obvious highlight, arises out of a muffled bed of moans and hisses before a gypsy violin emerges faintly, as if heard over static radio. There's an anachronous old-time feeling to the cut, as if Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire had somehow lost its way and ended up at a warehouse rave.

The rest of the album hews closely to Ágúst's string-enhanced, electro-altered pop formula, his easy, mellifluous voice accompanied by zig-zagging slashes of violin and cello. The single "If You Leave Me Now" (fortunately, not a Chicago cover) is quite pretty, both in its unadorned verse and its denser, more celebratory chorus.

Swallowed a Star is carefully constructed, subtle and, in its way, quite beautiful. It's a chilly sort of work though, carefully calibrating its emotional impact like a film score. I'd like to see Ágúst in less controlled mode, at least once in a while, letting the music carry him away a little more than it does here.

By Jennifer Kelly

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