Upbeat melancholy is not the most recent addition to contemporary folk’s repertoire but it rarely sounds as elegant and graceful as when Ólöf Arnalds pipes up. In a way, the singer represents Iceland’s musical talent in a nutshell. She is the cousin of Ólafur Arnalds, has worked with the likes of Múm and Mugison and received a B.A. in Composition and New Media from the Iceland Academy of the Arts. Oh, and Björk once described Arnalds’s voice as “somewhere between a child and an old woman”. Singing in Icelandic on her debut Við og Við and including some songs in English on the follow-up Innundir skinni, Ólöf Arnalds has settled for English on her latest album Sudden Elevation.
The language shift is not the only surprise. While Arnalds still relies on classical instruments, the arrangements are more elaborate; stripped-back guitars as in “Bright and Still” are an exception. Excitingly, Arnalds’s voice has become even more dominant. As the album cover offers a kaleidoscopic collage of the singer, her frequently erratic vocals create a multi-perspective soundwave with splendid circular canon rounds, disorientating yet compellingly intimate.
With songs on quiet devotion, interhuman incompatibility and snowed-in bravery, the album holds its own lyrically, as well. Arnalds delivers sadness with brilliantly quivering hooks worthy of Moto Boy in “Return Again” and gives cheerful relationship advice on honesty in “Treat Her Kindly”. Unlike her other albums, Sudden Elevation is the result of a continuous recording process and, perhaps, that is why the songs compliment each other this neatly.
After dizzily floating on melodies and romance for a while, the eighth track “Numbers and Names” made me sit up straight. Suddenly, there is a spring in the fingerpicking and the lyrics are like Wonka-Vite. So here goes my new daylight-saving-hymn: “I simply want to exist, is that to simplistic of me? / Although I have my concerns, my heart still burns, you see.” This song is aptly followed by the title track which thoughtfully glows in the middle of the room. The final song “Perfect” concludes with a drawling canon of “perfectly imperfect”, a rather perfectly marvellous ending to Arnalds’s lilting folk spin of a record. I say we go again.
To fund artwork and other creative projects for Sudden Elevation, Arnalds launched a pledge music campaign in October 2012. Within three months, the campaign not only met but exceeded the goal – apparently, people had high expectations for the album. It is safe to say that Ólöf Arnalds has met them.
Review by: Anne Malewski
Full Album Stream
Free Track: Treat Her Kindly (mp3)
All the beautiful artwork in this review is the work of Anne Malewski (also the reviewer)