Half-Icelandic, half-Italian singer-songwriter Emilíana Torrini is, along with chief collaborator Dan Carey, best known in pop circles as the co-writer and co-producer of Kylie Minogue’s 2004’s hit “Slow,” and that same expertly crafted minimalism can be found in her third album’s reggae-infused title track, which bounces along to a measured dub rhythm accented with small bursts of guitar and subtle laser-beam effects. With 2005’s Fisherman’s Woman, Torrini moved away from the electronic sound of her 1999 debut Love in the Time of Science, and though she smartly continues in that vein on Me and Armini, there are surprises to be found around the bend of every verse and hook. To wit, the creaky acoustic guitar and subliminal chirping of the exquisite “Birds” builds to a not-quite-crescendo of slightly shuffling percussion, foregrounded bass and spacey sonic atmosphere left over from trip-hop’s heyday. There’s no reason Torrini shouldn’t be heaped with the kind of critical praise Robyn, Sally Shapiro and Lykke Li have enjoyed in recent months. Lyrically, she’s capable of being both poetically evocative (“Naked trees they dress in crows,” she sings on the lush, string-filled closer “Bleeder”) and uncomplicated (the chorus of the vindictive “Ha Ha” consists of dry, faked laughter), and she communicates her emotional agony by carefully and deliberately stretching out her words on “Hold Heart”: “You’re my king no more/With that mer-ci-less he-arrrrt.” Torrini’s voice is something to behold, twisting and turning as it does around her tale of passion, faith, infidelity and disappointment on “Heard It All Before.” She has a playful, often youthful quality (the adjective “pixie-ish” comes to mind more than once throughout the album), but she also possesses a distinct swagger, particularly on the grisly “Gun,” which recounts a murder-suicide from the point of view of the weapon: “Hey, look me in the barrel and tell me that you love me/Yes, this is a kiss that I swear will blow your mind.” Accompanied by sultry electric guitar licks, reverb-y finger-snaps and breathy grunts, “Gun” might be one of the sexiest bloodbaths on record—and the highlight of an album that’s filled with them.
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