ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Otherworldly is a word often used to describe the Emiliana Torrini's voice. The Icelandic singer-songwriter was featured on the soundtrack for "Lord of the Rings: Two Towers" back in 2002.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLLUM'S SONG")
EMILIANA TORRINI: (Singing) Where once was light, now darkness falls.
SIEGEL: Torrini has collaborated on a new album with the ensemble The Colorist. Reviewer Michelle Mercer says it's a natural pairing.
MICHELLE MERCER, BYLINE: Emiliana Torrini is one of Iceland's most fascinating voices, and in the land of Bjork, 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 scenery when she sings. She helped redefine electronica in the Icelandic group GusGus, co-wrote a hit with British pop star Kylie Minogue and experimented with Roma musicians in Spain. But Torrini's met her true match in the Belgian group The Colorist.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WE DANCE")
TORRINI: (Singing) Lightning sparks your skin. You shine silver from within. You and I align among the stars, shining wonder.
MERCER: The Colorist as a unique orchestra founded in 2013 to reinterpret vocalists' music. The group calls its style reverse karaoke. They use traditional and self-designed instruments to create fresh tones around singers, rearranging existing songs. Torrini was The Colorist's dream collaborator, and after the Belgians auditioned with a remix of one of her songs, she agreed to a series of concerts with the ensemble. Here's "Nightfall" from their new live album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NIGHTFALL")
TORRINI: (Singing) In a dream, I am carried by sun rays through the dark.
MERCER: Torrini's earlier version of "Nightfall" had her voice settling into a gentle synth bed. The Colorist recreates that mood, but its live strings and woodwinds give the song immediacy and structure. With more solid ground, Torrini's voice rises up out of the soundscape.
TORRINI: (Singing) Pale blue - my pale blue.
MERCER: Each of The Colorist and Torrini's collaborations takes a different form. This is the original 2009 "Jungle Drum," Torrini's biggest solo hit.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUNGLE DRUM")
TORRINI: (Singing) Hey, read my lips 'cause all they say is kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss.
MERCER: In The Colorist's rendition, 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 train beat.
TORRINI: (Singing) My heart is beating like a jungle drum. My heart is beating like a jungle drum.
MERCER: Orchestral interpretations of pop songs can be bloated affairs, overwhelmed by an effort to aggrandize the source music. Instead, The Colorist meets Emilian Torrini's music on its own terms, and it feels like Torrini has been waiting for these attuned collaborators all her career.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPEED OF DARK")
TORRINI: (Singing) How did we let it get that far?
SIEGEL: Michelle Mercer reviewed the self-titled live album from The Colorist and Emiliano Torrini.
TORRINI: (Singing) Who we are.
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