PASCAL PINON-SUNDUR.

PASCAL PINON-SUNDUR.

It used to be that fourteen year olds dreamt about forming a band, and releasing an album. This they hoped, was the start of a career in music, and the road to fame and fortune. They dreamt of touring the world and releasing a string of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums. Alas, things don’t quite pan out that way. 

In reality, very few fourteen years olds ever get round to forming a band. Especially nowadays.

Nowadays, rock ’n’ roll doesn’t seem to be the career path of most fourteen year olds. They seem more concerned with schooling and exams, than the more important things in life, like  rock ’n’ roll. The few fourteen years old who do decide form a band,  often never even get as far as playing live.  Their nascent career has hit the buffers and their dreams are their left in tatters, without playing  note in anger. These are changed times.

During the sixtes and seventies, many fourteen year olds dreamt of making a career out of music. It was a way to escape poverty. So they decided to try and follow in the footsteps of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Genesis and Yes. 

By then, many fourteen year olds had learnt to play an instrument, so with a few friends, formed a band. Practise sessions were held in bedrooms or garages. The next step was to play live. Usually, this meant playing at youth clubs. Those bands that managed to survive the experience unscathed, went on to repeat the experience until they were old enough to play in pubs and clubs. Then maybe, the band would be spotted by an A&R rep from one of the record labels? Sometimes,  thugh, further education, relationships and work intervened and the dream was over. Very few bands made were picked up record companies, and a tiny percentage of those got as far as releasing an album.  At least they dared to dream.

Nowadays, it seems, most fourteen year olds don’t seem to place the same importance on music. They certainly don’t live and breath it like previous generations. The times they are a changing. Things have even changed since twin sisters Jófríður and Ásthildur Ákadóttir were fourteen.

That was less than ten years ago. Back then, Jófríður and Ásthildur Ákadóttir were growing up in Reykjavík, Iceland. They loved, and literally lived and breathed music. So much so, that they decided to form a band with two friends. This band they named Pascal Pinon, which recently, released its third album Sundur on Morr Music

Having made a decision to form a band Jófríður and Ásthildur Ákadóttir gathered together every musical instrument they had. This they doled out to their two friends had joined the band. The nascent band began to practise in the twin’s bedroom. Gradually, they began to hone their sound, and within a couple of months, were able to plan their first concert.

This concert Pascal Pinon billed as The Friendly Concert. It was a success, and was a stepping stone to greater things. Soon, Pascal Pinon were playing at various local venues, and were already a popular draw. Already, Pascal Pinon were thinking of the next step in their musical career…recording an album.

Pascal Pinon.

To record what became their debut album Pascal Pinon, the band borrowed a house in the nearby town of Voga. They made the short journey from Reykjavík, and transformed the house into a makeshift recording studio. That was where the eleven new songs that became Pascal Pinon were recorded.

For Pascal Pinon, cofounder Jófríður Ákadóttir had written nine new songs. Bassist Halla Kristjánsdóttir wrote Moi with Kristín Ylfa Hólmgrimsdóttir and Pascal Pinon. Closing Pascal Pinon, was a cover of Davíð Stefánsson’s En Pú Varst Aevintýr. These eleven tracks were recorded by the four members of Pascal Pinon.

When the recording of Pascal Pinon began, Jófríður Ákadóttir played guitar and added vocals. Her sister Ásthildur Ákadóttir played accordion, bass, keyboards and added vocals.  Augmenting the sisters, were bassist Halla Kristjánsdóttir and Kristín Ylfa Hólmgrimsdóttir, who switched between guitar, glockenspiel, flute and recorder.  At first Jófríður Ákadóttir’s shyness meant she had some difficulties laying down her vocal parts. Soon, though, she had overcome her shyness and the recording began to take shape. With everything going to plan, the eleven songs were soon recorded.  Pascal Pinon left their makeshift studio behind and began to make plans.

With their eponymous album recorded, Pascal Pinon’s thoughts turned to releasing the album. At first, Pascal Pinon decided to self release Pascal Pinon. So Pascal Pinon was initially released in 2009.  There was a tweeness and innocence to Pascal Pinon’s mixture of acoustic Neofolk and lo-fi pop. It was no surprise that the album soon found an audience. This lead to Morr Music signing Pascal Pinon.

 Now signed to Berlin-based Morr Music, Pascal Pinon was rereleased in December 2010, complete with a new album cover. This resulted in Pascal Pinon’s music reaching a wider audience. The band that had been formed in a Reykjavík bedroom by twin sisters was already making its presence felt. They were well on their way to living the dream.

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Twosomeness,

Buoyed by the reception and success of their eponymous debut album, Pascal Pinon soon began work on their sophomore album. By then, the Reykjavík based duo had their own home studio. This they named Jónsi and Alex’s Home Studio, which was a home from home for the twins. This would be the perfect place to record their sophomore album Twosomeness, which they were in the process of writing.

Eventually, twelve new songs were written, and would become Twosomeness. Again, Jófríður Ákadóttir had played a huge part in the writing process. She wrote eight of the songs, and cowrote the other four. This included Ekki Vanmeta, which Ásthildur Ákadóttir cowrote the lyrics to; while Davíð Stefánsson contributed the lyrics to Sumarmál. Rósa Þórisdóttir cowrote the lyrics to Þerney (One Thing) and wrote the lyrics to Fernando. These songs were recorded in Jónsi and Alex’s Home Studio.

By then, Pascal Pinon were now duo.  There had been neither a fallout, nor any bad feeling. Jófríður and Ásthildur had founded the band, and had always been Pascal Pinon’s senior partners. They wrote the songs, played the majority of the instruments and dictated musical direction. So the other two members left the band, but would occasionally return to lend a hand. Not this time around though.

Instead, Jófríður and Ásthildur played most of the instruments. Jófríður Ákadóttir played clarinet, guitar, keyboards and added vocals. Ásthildur Ákadóttir showcased her versatility, playing bassoon, dulcitone, glockenspiel, harmonium, keyboards, piano and contributed vocals. Given the sisters’ versatility, only Róbert Reynisson was  drafted in, and played electric guitar. Producing Twosomeness. was Alex Somers who played bass and a variety of toy instruments. This would be part of the sound of what was a very personal album, Twosomeness.

When recording of Twosomeness began, Jófríður and Ásthildur were closer than ever. This was very different to what happens in many families and bands. Often, young people begin to drift apart. Not Jófríður and Ásthildur,  Instead, their friendship was blossoming, and were growing even closer. Musically, the sisters had become one, united in a common purpose, making music. They celebrated their togetherness and unity on Twosomeness which was recorded in their new studio.

Gradually, the twelve song  begin to take shape at Jónsi and Alex’s Home Studio. It housed a myriad of musical instruments, including a selection of keyboards and guitars. These were put to good use on Twosomeness, which had a different sound to their eponymous debut album. That became apparent when Twosomeness was complete.

Morr Music scheduled the release of Twosomeness for 2012. When critics heard the album, they realised that Twosomeness was a move away from the understated, sparse sound of their eponymous debut album. Replacing this, was a much more eclectic album. It featured  arrangements that were much fuller. They incorporated elements of pop and folk. Another difference was, that this time around, some of the lyrics were sung in English, while the rest are delivered in their native tongue. The lyrics were celebratory and had a strong narrative, while the music veered between ethereal and ambient to otherworldly and joyous. Twosomeness was a celebration of the sisters growing closer, at an age when many siblings and band members would be growing apart.This was something to celebrate. So were the reviews of Twosomeness.

Critics were won over by the quality of music Twosomeness. It was a truly captivating album that won the hearts and minds of critics. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Twosomeness in January 2013. Pascal Pinon were hailed one of the rising stars of European music, and their next album was awaited with interest.

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Sundur.

Over three years would pass before Pascal Pinon returned with their third album, Sundur. A lot had happened since then.

Pascal Pinon had headed out on tour to promote Twosomeness. This took up much of 2013.  By then, the two sisters had come to one of the toughest decisions of their young lives, they had to spend some time apart.

This came when Asthildur got the opportunity to sturdy classical piano and composition in Amsterdam. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one most musicians would’ve grasped with both hands. However, this meant the two sisters would be apart for the best part of two years. The course was due to begin in early 2014, and would last until late 2015. For Asthildur, it was  a tough decision, and one she didn’t take lightly. Eventually, she decided to head to Amsterdam. Meanwhile, an opportunity arose for Jofriur.

When Jofriur isn’t recording and touring with Pascal Pinon, she has another band Samaris. They got the opportunity to tour the world during part of the time Asthildur was in Amsterdam. This for Jofriur was an opportunity of a lifetime, and would fill the void left by her sister’s decision to head to Amsterdam. 

During the time Jofriur toured the world with Samaris, she lead a nomadic lifestyle. She travelled from city to city, playing a gig, before heading off to the next venue. This was the routine night after night, week after week. Eventually, the tour was over and the sisters were reunited.

Jofriur travelled from Reykjavík in Iceland to see Asthildur, in Amsterdam. Some times, Asthildur made the return journey, and  travelled from Amsterdam to see  Jofriur in Reykjavík. The sisters bond and friendship was stronger than ever. So is their determination to make music.

They had sent eighteen months writing and recording Pascal Pinon’s third album Sundur. The title was taken from an Icelandic proverb sundur go saman, which translates as apart and together. This describes the sister’s relationship during the time that Asthildur spent in Amsterdam. 

The time the twins spent apart, has provided the inspiration for 

Sundur. The time they spent apart is the thread that runs through the album.Given how close the sisters had been all their lives, being geographically separated for the best part of two years, must have been a traumatic time. It’s documented throughout Sundur. However, with the two sisters geographically separated, writing Sundur was problematic.

Usually, the sisters wrote together. That wasn’t as easy, even though they continued to visit each other. During these visits, songs began to take shape. However, it wasn’t until late 2015 that the songs were completed. With the songs written, the finishing line was soon in sight for Pascal Pinon, as  Sundiur neared completion.

Sundur had been written and produced over an eighteen month period, quickly came together. The majority of Sundur was recorded within a two day period. By late 2015, Pascal Pinon’s much-anticipated third album was competed. The question was, what awaited listeners.

On Sundur, Pascal Pinon showcased music where they revisited their eponymous debut, but also headed in a totally new different. The music on  Sundur was folk-tinged and minimalist. It was also lo-fi, with experimental leanings. There was a rawness to the music, while arrangements are understated and sparsely orchestrated. They feature mesmeric rhythms and a driving piano. Sometimes, they’re augmented by the occasional synths. Adding a percussive sound, was composer and engineer Aki Asgeirsson. He’s also the proud father of Jofriur and Asthildur. He transforms scrap metal into a percussion instruments, which he plays. All this helps to frame Pascal Pinon’s inimitable vocals. Just like on their two previous albums, the vocals are at the heart of the sound and success of Sundur.

Opening Sundur is Jósa and Lotta. A piano plays, and at first, is distant, and hidden behind filters. Gradually, it moves to the front of the arrangement and accompanies Pascal Pinon’s heartfelt, urgent vocals deliver the carefully crafted lyrics.  Pascal Pinon sing in unison. Meanwhile, an organ sits below the piano, as  Pascal Pinon sing: “two birds both that fly high, two stars on each side, try to push and to carry on, in a desperate measure to belong.” Later, the vocals drop out leaving just the piano and organ. It drops out, and is replaced by furistic keyboards, in what’s a beautiful, ruminative song.

Just acoustic guitars play as 53 unfolds. They’re played slowly and deliberately, ushering in the vocal. It is full of sadness and hurt, singing: “his mother would have been 53, her misery took her away, what a view out the window, she followed it down and closer her eyes for eternity.” Soothing, cooing harmonies and guitars accompany the vocal. The lyrics are dark, powerful and cinematic, while the understated arrangement frames the vocal perfectly. This is an arrangement where less is more, and allows the vocal to take centre-stage.

A droning synth and drum machine are joined by Aki Asgeirsson’s metallic percussion on Forest. Soon, horns signals the arrival of a tender, almost nervous and urgent vocal. The vocal breathes life and meaning into the cinematic lyrics. “I’ve been listening for the weather report,hoping that I’ll hear some news of recovery.” By then, it’s possible to imagine someone trapped within a Forest desperately waiting to be rescued, as thoughts racing through their mind. Especially here, where two people have been separated and long to be reunited. “If I could cross the ocean in my head, I’d be there in your arms again.” Meanwhile, the arrangement features the pitter patter of metallic percussion, a myriad of beeps and squeaks, lumbering beats and even horns. Later, strings add the finishing touch. They’re used sparingly and prove an effective addition to this moving, cinematic song.

It’s just a crystalline acoustic guitar that opens Skammdegi. It’s joined seesaw keyboards before the vocal enters. This time, Pascal Pinon revert to their native tongue. Their delivery is tender and deliberate. Sometimes, they harmonise, as synths wah-wah in the background. They’re used sparingly, allowing the vocal to take centre-stage, as the guitars play a supporting role. Later, the tempo slows, and the arrangement meanders, melodically along, in what’s a beautiful example of Neofolk.

An accordion plays and reverberates on  Fuglar. It’s joined by an ethereal vocal. A bass is played carefully and slowly, adding a heartbeat as vocals and harmonies intertwine. Sometimes, it sounds as if Fuglar has been inspired by John Martyn’s One World. There’s similarities in the way the accordion, reverberates and creates a wash that provides the backdrop for the vocal.  They combine to create a track where folk’s part and present combine. Together they create a captivating and mesmeric song whose ethereal beauty is omnipresent.

Synths and a piano combine as a drum machine scampers on Spider Light. They’re soon joined by an organ, as layers of music combine and become part of something that’s greater than the sun of its parts. Synth strings are added, and provide the perfect counterpoint to the piano on a track where lo-fi and experimental combine with electronica to create a multilayered  and genre-melting soundscape that shows another side to Pascal Pinon.

Orange is a relationship song and about how nothing ever stays the same. “I had a lover, one I found flying for overseas, and soon it was over, it was bittersweet, he sent me a letter and soon, all my tears had been shed.” Soon, heartbreak and hurt give way to anger and frustration, and the realisation: “that nothing ever stays the same.” All the time, just a lone piano accompanies the vocal. Later: “now I have a lover, who lives close to me on the same sea, sometimes he’s bitter, but mostly, he’s sweet.” Still though, in the back of Jófríður’s mind is the realisation: “that nothing ever stays the same.”

From the distance, a droning sound draws nearer on Twax. Soon, percussion tinkles and chimes on this minimalist, lo-fi sound. Again, this less is more approach works, and works well. It’s captivating and has the listener spellbound, as instruments and found sounds appear, disappear and reappear on this understated, ambient track. Maybe Pascal Pinon should record an album of this type of music?

Percussion jangles, before a harmonium plays on Babies. Meanwhile, Pascal Pinon add soft, thoughtful vocal as a distant drums plays ominously. This provides the perfect accompaniment to the lyrics. They sing of: “lift ourselves from the ground, let wings grown from our backs, as if we’re angels.” Maybe this is a relocation of someone struggling to come to terms with adulthood?  Especially when later, Pascal Pinon sing: “lower ourselves from the skies, and onto the earth, let arms grown out of our bodies, as if we’re babies.” Their ethereal vocals give way the wavering harmonium and the ominous beat of drums. This allows the listener to reflect and ruminate on the lyrics.

Ast is another piano lead song. It features Jófríður’s tender, ethereal vocal. Sometimes, though, the piano is played firmly and briskly. This provides a contrast to the tender, soul-baring vocal that oozes emotion.

Weeks which closes Sundur, opens with siren like synths providing the backdrop for an emotive vocal. Jófríður sings: “weeks pass so fast that it amazes me, I don’t know how to keep track of time, with every day memories of the golden days, they disappear and turn into black.” There’s a sadness and a longing for these days, as the sirens continue to ring out. It’s as if they send out a warning that time is passing, and passing quickly, so best make the best of that time.  Suddenly, this realisation seems to hit home, as emotion and sadness fill Jófríður’s vocal on what’s a truly poignant, wistful and thoughtful song. Pascal Pinon have kept one of their best songs until last on Sundur.

After three years away, Pascal Pinon return with Sundur, which is a career defining album. Sundur is without doubt, the best album of Pascal Pinon’s career. It’s certainly their  most eclectic album.

Sometimes, Pascal Pinon sound as if they’ve been inspired by Astrid Williamson’s early albums, John Martyn and Kate Bush. There’s even a nod to Sandy Denny, on what’s a thoroughly modern album of folk music.

Sundur finds Pascal Pinon combining disparate genres. There’s elements of ambient and avant-garde, plus electronica and experimental, right though to folk, Neofolk and pop. Sometimes, several genres melt into one on the one multilayered song. Other times, the songs are minimalistic, with sparse, spartan arrangements. They often feature just guitars or a piano, which proves the perfect accompaniment to the vocal. There, less is more. Then on the two soundscapes,  Pascal Pinon let their imagination run riot, and create captivating instrumentals. However, captivating is a word that perfectly describes Sundur, which was recently released on the Berlin-based Morr Music.

The music on Sundur can also be described as beautiful, cinematic, emotive and ethereal, but also dark, ruminative and wistful. Always though, the music on Sundur is captivating on what is without doubt, a career-defining album where Pascal Pinon come of age musically. 

PASCAL PINON-SUNDUR.

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