Ask the Deep is the second full-length album by Icelandic singer and multi-instrumentalist Sóley Stefánsdóttir. Building on the elegantly moody art pop of her 2011 debut We Sink, Ask the Deep is ultimately bigger in scope, though no brighter in tone. It follows her sparse, 2014 instrumental piano EP Krómantík, combining that release's avant composition style with the strange, maudlin warmth of her debut, resulting in a dreamy world of treated pianos, smoky synth textures, glitchy beats, and Sóley's quietly engaging vocals. Her world is one of lonesome landscapes, inner devils, and deep, nocturnal musings and it's a place she inhabits quite naturally. There's barely any of the chilly exterior and austerity that often accompanies this type of slow, highly atmospheric pop and her approach on standouts like "The Devil," "Ævintyr," and "Halloween" feels very personal, drawing the listener in with an inviting, candlelit aura. There's an understated majesty to many of the tracks, like the Philip Glass-inspired "Follow Me Down" and the spooky, pipe organ hymn "I Will Never," and the album's pace, while never uptempo, somehow doesn't drag, either. Sóley plays with various moods within the album's parameters, following the sad, stark "One Eyed Lady" with the sinister instrumental interlude "Óhljó∂," and changing tack just often enough to keep things interesting without disrupting the flow. Her respect for the the songs' architecture helps to strike a nice balance between her innate experimentalism and the desire to connect using relatable emotions and melodies. Smart, intimate, and challenging, Ask the Deep is a bold second effort from an intriguing artist.
© Timothy Monger /TiVo