Album: JFDR – New Dreams review

by Paddy Kinsella

New Dreams is the eighth album Jófríður Ákadóttir (JFDR) has released in eight years. It is only her second full-length under the JFDR moniker, the other six emerging from projects like Pascal Pinon, a folk duo she formed with her twin sister at the age of 14, Samaris, an electronic trio she started at the age of 17, and Gangly, an Icelandic supergroup she joined at the wizened old age of 19. JFDR’s experimental spirit is obvious from the potpourri of guises she’s worn, yet never has she taken such a leap of faith as on New Dreams – a record so stark it hangs like loose clothes swaying and blowing in the wind, your skin exposed to the elements at even the flimsiest of gusts.

With this record, Ákadóttir announces herself as a true architect of sound. The minimalist structures she consigns herself to amplify her flair for nuance. The songs start life as a lone raindrop falling down a windowpane, until it spools with another only to split and return to its skeletal bedrock before finding a new partner. Each spooling represents a deft embellishment – an addition or subtraction that exorcises the listener, permitting them to levitate above the heap of blood and bone that sits below. New Dreams is a lesson in the power of space and silence. Ákadóttir knows how to activate imaginations, and she understands that it’s what isn’t there than what is there that matters most.

Language is ill-equipped to describe the affect Gravity has. Though it is just Ákadóttir’s voice set to a whirring, air-raid mimicking synth, when it closes and the world re-emerges around you, it hits like a spook in the night – an audible shock leaping from your throat. This sudden ending is an anomaly though. For the most part, Ákadóttir leaves the record button pressed down, capturing the hubbub leaking into the Brooklyn loft that made for her recording studio.

Her voice is the focal point on New Dreams. As is her nature, Ákadóttir would spend her time on the tour bus stitching together beds of vocal samples for no other reason than her own enjoyment. It was her mix engineer that made her realise how these recordings could complement the bed frames of her songs. This revelation has bestowed New Dreams with a voice that travels in the wind, the vowel sounds travelling like waves, unpredictable in their length or closeness. Just as her Icelandic counterparts Sigur Ros sang in Volenska, a language of their own making, Ákadóttir’s words are often unintelligible; at the end of Dive In, she espouses primal noises sounding like a woman in the final throes of labour. Elsewhere, her elongated groans and grumbles are like a tunnel where you don’t want the light to enter, they achieve a transcendence you might previously only have thought Julianna Barwick capable of.

New Dreams feels like an album that Ákadóttir had to get out of her system. She will never make a record of its like again. It is exclusive to the hermetic life she led in that gear-loaded loft and the thoughts and feelings that weaved through her in the moments leading up to her taking base there. It is an exercise in deadening weight, in unmooring a ship and letting it sail off unbounded. It is a record that flushes out and renews, gifting you with new eyes in which to see the world. When she sings, ‘thank you for taking me higher / thank you for everything’ on Taking A Part of Me, one of just two percussive songs on the record, Ákadóttir might as well be addressing the process of making New Dreams itself. The affect it has on us, the listener, is even more profound. New Dreams is an immersive, sacred space we can drift off to whenever outside noise starts to overwhelm. A levitational phenomenon we can never begin to thank her enough for.

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