Sunday, 27 January 2013

Track Review: Ólafur Arnalds - This Place Was A Shelter


We here at Music Review Database have always had something of an admiration for Ólafur Arnalds. Hell, Iceland as a whole has spawned many artists and musicians that lay comfortably nestled in our music libraries and frequently resurface amid my recent listening habits. The Icelandic neoclassical composer has managed, in the space of five years, to go from a humble piano-playing, classically-organized, electronically-tampering Nordic to a Worldwide interest, who clearly knows how to score (no, not in that way) without hindering his somewhat minimal palette of sound for an eventually maximized broadening of emotion. His music has even helped soundtrack the likes of Sam Levinson's 'Another Happy Day', and even been picked for the more A-Movie motion pictures a la 'Looper'. So in anticipation for Arnalds' third studio album - his first under Universal Music - which is expected to be released late next month, we've been given a peak into what 'For Now I Am Winter' may entice us with. This Place Was A Shelter then is the first opportunity we've been given to see how Arnalds' new-found fame and increased popularity has affected - if at all - his gentle, but invoking sound in instrumental music.

The track certainly suggests more of an electronic approach in Arnald's song-writing - thunderous crawling of beats rattle their way into the forefront of the piece - presiding over a more humble layering of piano chords and descending violin strings that moan as much as they clamber down on the piece. But it's the synthesizer usage that is the most prominent and appealing of this track - beats turning from crunchy to cracking and then back to crawling about the flicker of strings and softening piano keys. There's a clambering, breaking effect taking place in the background - something resembling an object or series of objects toppling over, or perhaps - to fit the context of the music perhaps - breaking apart and letting the inevitable tumble take its place. True, there's less of an emotional side and emotive narration in Arnalds' music here, but what we get instead is something that is while immobile and static (in both its position as well as in its sound) conjures more of a situational effect and conjures, to great effect, the track's feeling of clashing with one's self. Contradictory...and yet, as the track slowly fades off into lone piano keys once more, fittingly perfect to one another's attributes.

While it's nothing new in Arnalds' mind to tinker with electronics and see how the synthesized line up with his more traditional instrumentation, there's an attractiveness and furthermore, a longing to see where this holds out on an album-scale. But from what I've heard here - and what many more will soon come to hear and experience - Arnalds has begun exploring some very interesting ground for his music to tread in one part, but somehow bizarrely unleash itself across, in other parts. For Now I Am Winter is out February 25th on Mercury Classics.

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