Ólafur Arnalds
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Ólafur Arnalds

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"Hamlet à la headphones, but prettier."

Score: 8/10

Born of paroxysmal strings and tender piano, Icelandic artist Olafur Arnalds cradles his solo debut from the moment it escapes the womb, perfecting every moment of its growth and existence with the nurturing touch of a new parent.

Only 20 years of age, Olafur has shed the skin two prior musical projects and immersed himself completely in the world of delicate symphonic compositions in a near weightless orchestral undertaking. Comprised of eight nameless tracks, the early portion of the record is driven by the above-mentioned passive piano work and concerted strings that crisscross each other’s paths, often rolling off one another and intersecting in gentle, wavy shifts of classical sound.

It can’t be stressed enough just how delicate the first side of the album is. Each piano key is touched, almost stirred, with the utmost precision and hope. The sound plays like an open mouth preparing a whisper; fullness of breath on lips, ready to send a mouthful of warm wind and words to another, hoping they understand, both verbally and emotionally. Add this up a multitude of times and weave in a series of orchestral movements that pull the heartstrings like a marionette, and you have a decent idea of where the album stands. If not, we can just try this: Ludovico Einaudi meets a lyric-less, down tempo Sigur Ros.

Arnald’s compositions skate across frozen ponds of classical synthesis, spinning on the ice and sketching their lines in the thick palette of frozen water. If you were to pull yourself up from the world and gaze back down at the landscape, you’d see gentle loops laced like winter crop circles across the slice of an urban glacier. Perhaps a winter scene, but something here echoes with an eerie amount of heightened warmth.

As the tracks progress, a subtle shift in their architecture becomes evident. The piano remains soft on the surface, but things below seem to strengthen as the strokes become sharper, fiercer, and almost augment the shape and sound of their string counterpart. Eventually, things spill over on the fourth song, and as if being antagonized by the jabs of the piano, the string section literally launches itself to the forefront of the piece, surrounding the listener with an ephemeral bubble of eurythmic ego. It’s completely stunning, really.

From this moment on, the record takes on a different mood, as the strings now seem to have become comfortable in their identity and aren’t bashful about showering the songs with their presence. In response, the piano passages become staunch and determined, but in a strangely unique way maintain their fragility and composure. For nearly twenty minutes a nearly paralyzing, surreal interplay takes place between the two classes of instruments, who instead of casually crossing each other’s path, are now embroiled in a heated discourse. It’s incredible how quick the music present here can push you back into the viewer’s seat, as you listen to things develop, unravel, and play into much thicker plots. Hamlet à la headphones, but prettier.

However, midway through the sixth song, something very strange takes place, smack in the middle of otherwise engaging musical dialogue: drums. And even though they seem to appear for only a brief moment, they completely mud things up and push the whole atmosphere of the disc into a strange place, like an uninvited guest barging into a conversation. Whatever their purpose, they scare the hell out of the harpischord, as it disappears entirely on the next to last song, while instead we’re treated to an impassioned screech of string tumult. The keys make a quick visit on the last track, but just as things are returning to their prior mood, the whole scene blows up into a mish-mash of progressive rock clamor-- a strange, and bitter, conclusion to an extremely solid record.

Shakespeare and ice-skating aside, Arnalds has put together one cookie of an album here. The underlying classical layer coupled with the unique distinctive emotional attachment to the detailed character of his compositions is really baffling, considering his newness to this genre. Now, with one album popped out and well into puberty, one can’t help but wonder what this Icelandic lad will knock up, and knock out, next. - The Silent Ballet

"A song a day... Ólafur Arnalds writes and releases week of free songs"

Enchanting Icelandic songsmith Ólafur Arnalds has been a favourite at DiS towers for a while but he's only gone and endeared himself to us even bloody more now!

In an especially ambitious endeavour, Arnalds is writing, recording and releasing - for free - a song a day for the whole of this week. Named Found Songs they are Arnalds' attempt to reclaim some of his "lost and found" compositions which failed to make it further.

DiS' was blown away by his bleak soundscapes at last year's Iceland Airwaves festival, so why not check him out f'yourself?!

Even though it feels like Tuesday, we're already at Wednesday, so today sees the third instalment in this Arnalds' septuple saga. - Drowned in Sound

"In any event his debut sounds full of the reverence and awe normally reserved for God"

21 year old Olafur Arnalds wrote some of this debut when he was 15. His controlled pieces for piano, strings, and occasional electronics will have fans of Max Richter and Johann Johannsson as happy as dreaming dogs having their bellies tickled.

Erased Tapes

Arnalds is from Iceland and the stereotypical reaction might be to suggest his work is clean, cool and somehow emotionally detached. In interviews about his creativity, though, he has largely played down the influence of native landscape, preferring instead to speak of the effects of interactions with real people and of life in his hometown. Certainly Eulogy for Evolution seems a structured reflection of a passage of time such as that of a human lifespan and Arnalds’ music engages emotions immediately and does not let them go. He achieves this by sound alone as the titles of tracks are depicted by numbers rather than through the use of phrases or names. These numbers apparently allude to the timing of imaginary snapshots throughout the album. Hence “3326” refers to a possible picture of the scene at 33 minutes 26 seconds. Opener “0040” features crystal piano notes framed and seemingly held in the air by the plainest of string arrangements. “0048/0729” is an exercise in delay and restraint with added atmospherics and (perhaps) accordion, with quite epic results.

Parts of “1440” are almost too lush for my tastes but stop just about shy of full-on sentimentality. I also like the fake ending on this piece and the ending which is a repetition of just a few notes. The important thing is: they are the right notes. Calling your record Eulogy for Evolution shows a certain confidence but Arnalds has the talent to match and critics have murmured like contented lambs suckling on their mother’s milk. While the rules of composition were ripped up decades ago it’s a trifle hard not to feel something approaching negativity when someone so young combines melancholy and optimism with so little fuss: almost as if he should have to do a longer apprenticeship if only to acknowledge that evolution takes time. No matter, Arnalds has studied Arvo Part and has been chosen to tour with Sigur Ros later this summer so his gravitation toward sparse impressionism is probably a natural path.

In any event his debut sounds full of the reverence and awe normally reserved for God, or at least George Best or Sir Vivian Richards at the absolute peak of their powers. As exquisite as the first few tracks are, by “1953” I was thinking that evolution (in alphabetical terms) would only be progressing from about A to H. However, on the gorgeous but more dramatic and nuanced “3055” a dynamic of change is writ in fuzzed electronics, speedy piano and booming percussion. “3326,” the shortest piece on the album, adds to the variety with a quasi-violent rubbing of strings evoking the brief passion of Jacqueline du Pre: chopped down before she was barely a woman.

I once upset the host of a party by changing the music after what was starting to seem like 48 hours of lute music. Unbeknownst to me, she had set up a series of tapes to gradually delight the ears of her guests with a timeline of sound encompassing early music right through to (what was then the happening sound of) Eno and Byrne! Let me offer belated apologies to the host, Melanie. In my defense, party goers were impatient and, as with evolution itself, unable to predict when, or if, swift and radical changes would ever occur. Olafur Arnalds has not released an album encompassing the entire history of Western music, but Eulogy for Evolution will reward the patient listener. - Brainwashed


Found Songs EP (2009)

‘Gorgeous, on-line chamber-glitch success’ - (4/5)

'His most beautiful and beguiling creature yet' (8/10)
Drowned In Sound

'The best piano record of 2009. The return to the essence' -

'Is it pop or is it classic? Either way, this is about absolute beauty' (5/6)
Tonspion (DE)
'Still his music almost seems to be a bit too perfect' (9/10)
Soundmag (DE)

'Rare is the modern composer that edges above and makes classical music cool, yet Ólafur Arnalds does so with grace and simplicity. In Found Songs, Arnalds has effortlessly and skillfully produced a timeless work of art.'
FensePost (US)

'It is a major piece of work in its own right, and deserves to be recognised as nothing less.' (4.6/5)
The Milk Factory

'If this essential record is what Arnalds can do in a week, his second album proper can't come soon enough'

'This latest outing continues to chart the young Icelandic composer's ascendance. Highly recommended.' Album of the Week - Boomkat

Eulogy for Evolution (2007)

“In any event his debut sounds full of the reverence and awe normally reserved for God, or at least George Best or Sir Vivian Richards at the absolute peak of their powers.”
- Brainwash (US)

'Iceland's best new export comes in the shape of Eulogy For Evolution!'
– Clash Magazine

'With this impressive first album, Ólafur Arnalds is sure to gain a well deserved place amongst the new generation of classical composers' (4.6/5) – The Milk Factory

'a series of orchestral movements that pull the heartstrings like a marionette.[...] Hamlet à la headphones, but prettier.'
(8/10) – No. 14 in top 50 albums of 2007 The Silent Ballet

'Arnald’s work is brave, unique and defiantly outré. True to its name, Eulogy for Evolution is enough to send creationists running to Darwin.'
(9/10) – CD Times

'One of the most intelligent, well-crafted and utterly beautiful records of the year.'
– In It For The Money Zine

'No. 9 in Top 20 Albums of the year 2007'
– Caleidoscoop (NL)

'No. 17 in Top 20 Albums of the year 2007'
– The Milkfactory (UK)

(9/10) – Visions (GER)
(4/5) – Laut.de (GER)

'A majestic debut album! Achingly beautiful classical indie from Iceland!'
(7/10) – Rock Sound

'If you thought Sigur Rós had the patent on hauntingly beautiful and meticulously compelling music coming out of Iceland, then Ólafur Arnalds is here to educate you otherwise. - Eulogy For Evolution is perhaps this years most hauntingly emotive sounding experience'
– UK Music Search

'An auspicious debut from a promising young talent.'
(7/10) – Drowned In Sound

'Gentle, epic, beautiful, visceral, masterful and utterly essential. Juxtapositions fully intended.'
(5/5) – Is This Music?

'Best debut I’ve heard in a long time'
(4/5) – Rjominn (IS)

(4.5/5) – Poisonfree.com
(4/5) – Morgunblaðið (IS)
(9/10) – Sound Mag (GER)
(8.5/10) – Rock Hard (GER)

debuted at #111 in CMJ's radio charts in North America

Variations of Static EP (2008)

'Arnalds has released two indie symphonies of remarkable depth. Iceland's brightest young talent won't be out of the light for long!'
– Rock Sound

'There is, in Ólafur Arnalds’s work, a certain elegance and fluidity that is very much his own. [...] a beautiful companion to Eulogy For Evolution. One can only wish Arnalds’s talent gets the recognition it deserves sooner rather than later.’
(4.4/5) – The Milk Factory

'For once, instruments don’t need to evolve in order to make a difference, this being Olafur’s major accomplishment – the bare simplicity of music in its wholeness becomes unrelenting. [...] From its inception to the very last second, Variations of Static explores basic human perceptions, the changing qualities of the most common sounds, and raw sensations, musically recreating scraps of an imaginary impressionist painting. Under the siege of strings, the world slowly becomes a skinless place, like a wide steppe safely pinned to the big bones of separation.'
- The Silent Ballet

‘'His sweet-sour, melancholic music brings you to new heights and is way ahead of other albums in this genre!'’ (8.6/10)
- Monitor (IS)

'Svo fögur!' (4.5/5) – Rjominn (IS)
(9/10) – Sound Mag (DE)



Born in 1986, Ólafur hails from the suburban Icelandic town, Mosfellsbær, just a few kilometres outside of Reykjavík. He has immersed himself in a world of delicate symphonic compositions generating near weightless orchestral pieces. Arnalds explores the crossover from classical to pop by mixing chamber strings and piano with discreet electronics. His motivations are clear: “The classical scene is kind of closed to people who haven't been studying music all their lives. I would like to bring my classical influence to the people who don't usually listen to this kind of music…open people's minds.”

Through relentless touring and determination this young artist has steadily gained recognition worldwide since his 2007 debut 'Eulogy for Evolution'. He has sold out some of the world’s most renowned music venues, including Barbican Hall in London, supporting fellow Icelanders Sigur Rós on their most recent European shows. Ólafur's BBC Radio 1 live session for Gilles Peterson was awarded the best live session of 2008 by Gilles himself. The 2008 follow-up EP ‘Variations of Static’ earned Ólafur acclaim from both the contemporary and classical field – transcending a traditional divide.
Since then Ólafur has written music for advertisements for Falck, Sony, Icelandair and others, as well as having his music featured in several films. One of the world's most successful fashion designers, Dries Van Noten, asked Ólafur to write and play live the music accompanying his Autumn/Winter 2008 fashion show at the Paris Fashion Week.

With the next full-length release due this winter, Ólafur conceived ‘Found Songs’ as a way to collate several lost and found musical sketches and ideas in a 'very challenging, but fun' series. He created, recorded and released online for free, one song per day for a week. The experiment offers its listeners an intimate insight into Ólafur Arnalds’ creative world – so far more than 100.000 people downloaded the ‘Found Songs’ series via foundsongs.erasedtapes.com.
Not only did Ólafur release the songs by unconventional means, but he also invited his fans to participate by sending in artwork inspired by the songs. Ólafur chose his 7 favorite photographs which now accompany the CD and vinyl release of Found Songs. Ólafur also chose a video, submitted by Estebán Diacono, to be the official video for 'Ljósið'. The video has been a great success and has been seen online by over 700.000 people as well as having been featured in many of the most prestigious design magazines around the world and art galleries.

Ólafur is currently in the studio with Bardi Johannsson (Bang Gang) who will be co-producing his upcoming album. Arnalds' growing reputation has also won him the attention of the internationally renowned British dance choreographer Wayne McGregor who has invited Ólafur to score his brand new work. ‘Dyad 1909’ will be premiered in London at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre this October. The show will go on a EU-wide tour with Arnalds included in an impressive creative line-up alongside acclaimed artists and filmmakers Jane and Louise Wilson. As well as having the piece broadcasted on BBC in early December, with the sound track to be released on CD and Vinyl simultaneously on Erased Tapes Records.

For more information on Ólafur please visit his website: www.olafurarnalds.com or the label’s website: www.erasedtapes.com

‘Arnalds has released two indie symphonies of remarkable depth. Iceland's brightest young talent won't be out of the light for long!’
– Rock Sound (UK)

“In any event his debut sounds full of the reverence and awe normally reserved for God, or at least George Best or Sir Vivian Richards at the absolute peak of their powers.”
- Brainwash (US)

'Iceland’s best new export!'
–Clash Magazine (UK)

'Is it pop or is it classic? Either way, this is about absolute beauty' (5/6)
Tonspion (DE)

VIDEO FOR "3055": http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=K6u5D-5LWSg