Sometimes the greatest discoveries aren’t about finding something new, but realizing the value of what’s been in front of you all along. That’s been the case for me with the Swedish artists iamamiwhoami. I’d listened to their music before and liked it, but they didn’t really capture my attention until earlier this year, when I heard the majestic, slowly descending intro of “Fountain,” the first song from their new album Blue (one of my top 10 albums of the year). The more I listened, the more I was pulled in—not only to Blue, for which they’ve been gradually releasing audiovisual “episodes” throughout 2014, but also to their past releases, Kin and especially the spectacularly good Bounty.
iamamiwhoami began with a series of mysterious transmissions to music blogs, and even now that their identities are publicly known, they retain an anonymous, amorphous quality that fits their name. The vocals seem clear enough, but when you listen closely, it’s hard to tell what singer Jonna Lee is actually saying. You can hear the influences in their sound—the Knife, Kate Bush, even ABBA—but just when you think you have a song figured out, it unexpectedly rises to a climax or slows to a crawl. (Just listen to what happens around the 3:45 mark in the song “y”, below.)
iamamiwhoami’s visuals and music are tightly intertwined, magnifying each other’s power. Okay, some of their imagery is over-the-top in its bizarreness (plastic-wrapped piano playing isn’t even the weirdest thing they’ve done) but it’s hard not to be seduced by the sheer force of their creativity and vision. “I don’t even know what a traditional artist is,” Lee told DAZED magazine recently. “But I know that everything we do has a purpose and a substance.”
Lee has said that Blue is about the contradictions of existing in both the natural and the digital world, and the songs feel less dark and claustrophobic than those of Bounty and Kin, more open to the light and air. Or maybe water is a better comparison, as Blue overflows with aquatic imagery, from vibrating ripples to gently trickling raindrops.
Either way, it’s nice to hear music free of jadedness and irony, music that’s not afraid embrace both the joyous and the strange. When Lee wakes up on a beach in sunlight for the video for “Blue Blue,” you imagine that she’s been reborn to an entirely new world—and as the song lifts to an ecstatic chorus like a bird rising over the waves, you might feel that you have been, too.
– Anna Kramer