Sunna Margrét

Finger on Tongue

Oddball Icelandic pop packs a dense punch, heavy with ideas, finds Amanda Farah

Icelandic artist Sunna Margrét knows how to experiment in texture. On the songwriter and producer’s debut album, Finger on Tongue, she explores different ways to distort her voice and instruments as free floating elements that somehow still end up in each other’s orbit. From the way Margrét layers her vocals across tracks to the multilayered backgrounds she builds with synths to varied resonances she pulls from the percussion, every song is woven as a slightly different fabric.

Margrét doesn’t have a set vocal style, but rather treats her voice as something pliable to be distorted and looped, to entice and to sooth. She regularly uses spoken word or half-sung techniques, bringing out the gentle trill in her accent.

It’s spoken word that opens the album on ‘Chocolate’, against synths that shimmer like sunlight on water. There is something synaesthetic about the tones on the album that lends them easily to visuals. But water is most clearly evoked on the song by the snare drum, the effect on which conjures the sound of splashing. ‘Chocolate’ is also a red herring on the album, coming in with a familiar chorus-focused structure and then quickly deviating away from that line.

There is a thematic, sensory progression to Finger on Tongue, with the songs following a trajectory from oddball pop to soft synth compositions. By mid-album, Margrét has made things glitchy and metallic; she is again using spoken word on ‘Hibiscus’, but clips it with editing, like a record skipping. The low, spiralling drone of the song is set against an electrical spark shower of percussion. By the time she reaches album closer ‘I, Here in Distance’, Magrét is humming quietly, sedately, as if she is emotionally spent. It feels like a lengthy mood swing, but it speaks to Margrét’s impeccable sense of pacing on a broad scale.

This pacing is exemplified on a smaller scale in album centrepiece ‘Figure’, which encompasses all of the musical themes and every card in Margrét’s hand. It’s here that she pushes the full spectrum of her vocals from the half-spoken to copy-pasted samples to the richly layered. The percussion is scattershot, the backing track is itself percussive, and there is a visceral impact when the sub-bass is dialled up like heat coming out of a furnace. “I bite my tongue in teenage agony,” she sings as all sounds and effects fall away for the only time on the album. It takes solid intuition to allow the songs to breathe as she does — even more so when an artist is capable of packing so much into one song.

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