Emiliana Torrini is one of Iceland's most fascinating voices — and in the land of Björk, that's saying something. Torrini writes literate songs across a variety of styles, and she bends her voice into shades so dramatic that it's hard not to picture her country's landscapes when she sings.
Torrini helped redefine electronica in the Icelandic group GusGus, co-wrote a hit with British pop star Kylie Minogue and experimented with Roman musicians in Spain. But Torrini has met her true match in the Belgian group The Colorist.
The Colorist is a unique orchestra founded in 2013 to reinterpret vocalists' music. The group calls its style "reverse karaoke": it rearranges existing songs by using traditional and self-designed instruments to create fresh tones around singers. Torrini was The Colorist's dream collaborator, and after the Belgian ensemble auditioned with a remix of one of her songs, she agreed to a series of concerts with the group in 2015.
The collaboration has now produced a live album, The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini. Each rearrangement on the album takes a different form. Torrini's original version of the song "Nightfall" had her voice settling into a dreamy synth bed. On the new recording, The Colorist recreates that mood, but its live strings and woodwinds give the song immediacy and structure. With more solid ground, Torrini's singing rises up out of the soundscape.
In The Colorist's rendition of Torrini's biggest hit, "Jungle Drum," homemade percussion and a doubled line on piano and bass deepen the groove, with strings accentuating the song's euphoria. Even when they break the song down, they never lose the original dancing beat.
Orchestral interpretations of pop songs can be bloated affairs, overwhelmed by an effort to aggrandize the source music. Instead, The Colorist meets Torrini's music on its own terms — and it feels like she's been waiting for these attuned collaborators all her career.