What does JFDR sound like?
The tender side of Icelandic singer-songwriting.
The review JFDR – Museum
‘Museum’ is a wonderfully apt title for JFDR’s latest album. Following on from her fantastic 2020 album ‘New Dreams’, JFDR (Jófríður Ákadóttir) found herself in a creative crisis. What triggered her renewal and confidence burst was discovering a collection of demos and unfinished songs. Whilst the album isn’t born directly out of those demos, it sparked the creativity for JFDR to write feverishly about an album of healing and revival.
This kicks off in elegant fashion with the melodic dream of ‘The Orchid’. Bulbous synths bubble up a dreamy arpeggiator with light string accents adding a symphonic flourish on occasion. The lyrics speak of the flower offering something just out of reach, a little like the creative spark JFDR was looking for. That longing for something carries over into the muted acoustics of ‘Life Man’. Hand percussion, gurgly fingerpicking and an intimate sound design allow the rustic hush of the track to feel vibrant and secretive. I’m reminded a little of Rebekka Karijord as they both channel a feminine comfort, even when singing about feeling a little lost.
Whilst the opening two tracks offer lyrics about things out of reach, ‘Spectator’ speaks of feeling one step removed from life. The track effortlessly moves from an acoustic guitar to ethereal piano and synths as if the song itself is being pulled away from itself. Each verse and chorus has a totally different instrument selection and it’s this attention to detail that marks JFDR as an evocative sound designer. The finale of the track is immensely satisfying. The well-worn Icelandic trope of sensitive modern classical brilliance shines true with ‘Air Unfolding’. Here, gently layered pianos trickle elixirs of hope and calm over glassy synths. JFDR’s vocal is often doubled across the album but even in the tenderest moments that doubled vocal just sounds extremely vulnerable. Another feature of the album is pitch-bent rhythmic synths and they add a unique texture to the album and are showcased beautifully here.
Not every song has a lead vocal. ‘Flower Bridge’ is a gorgeous instrumental featuring piano and the Icelandic Landspil. The track is like a lost Amiina song and most of the album has that ethereal fairytale quality. ‘Valentine’ uses a bed of electric guitar and bass to draw you into a pillowy retreat only to use vocal distortions to pull parts of her doubled vocals off on tangents. JFDR keeps the song angelic and ethereal but it’s slightly alien too. You could argue the music is haunting but across ‘Museum’, I feel like the music is a blanket of comfort. Even during ‘Sideways Moon’, possibly the darkest track on the album, it feels like hope is breaking through. Here, frazzled wiry synths are seared at the seams as they whirlpool around distant piano that is barely audible. Tons of electric clicks, noises and bass booms are present making the track sound the densest and most claustrophobic on the album. I always feel purged by its closure.
The lilting waltz of ‘February’ pushes us towards a mixture of classical contemporary chamber folk. Again, the attention to detail in instrumentation wins out. Want a toy piano motif? Some synth glockenspeil? Cello-infused synths? You’ll get them all but in different phases and never quite sounding the same for a few chords. It’s so delicate and pure and leads us to the uplifting warmth of the finale. ‘Underneath The Sun’ is as folksy as the album gets. ‘Darling, I know I’m safe in your hands’ sings JFDR, as she declares where home is for her. It’s a beautiful acoustic-driven track that brings the album’s theme full circle. From uncertainty and spiralling confusion, JFDR sounds and feels grounded.
‘Museum’ is a stunning album. Fragile, delicate and rich with melodic intent, the album is wall-to-wall quiet anthems for chamber folk fans. Embracing a feminine nurturing warmth, JFDR guides us from feeling unsure of ourselves to feeling renewed purpose and hope. The instrumentation and production of the album are flawless and hearing it with headphones unearths just how much is going on to create a sense of melodic haze. One of my favourite albums of 2023, this is an album that I think will only grow in my heart and mind over time. A perfect ten from me.
Recommended track: The Orchid
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