Haunting, Genre-Free Music from Iceland
First, become afflicted. Unclench your well-lined fists, open the door in the brick wall that surrounds your heart. Let the sadness of modern life wash over you like a waterfall, like a cold shower, like a breakup, a breakdown, a breakthrough. It takes a lot of control to keep it together in these times, and a lot of self-discipline to keep that control together. Just let it go; not all the way, because that way madness lies; just for a few minutes.
Secondly, put on your best walking boots and go outside. The air is still a little chilly up here, especially in the mornings, although it’s probably better wherever you are, but it’s full of spring, of renewal, even hope: Easter, Passover, Spring Break, Opening Day. Let the sun hit you in the eyes so you have to squint; let the soft rain moisten your hair; see the rabbits and the sanitation workers do their early-morning jobs. Shops are opening, school buses are warming up, but the machine is not fully operational yet.
Thirdly, allow yourself to truly feel this record. Don’t worry about what kind of music Ólafur Arnalds makes. It’s pop, but it’s not; it’s classical, but it’s also electronic; it’s jazz and it’s rock and it’s ambient and it’s none of these things and all of them. Categories melt, boundaries are clearly meaningless. In the right light, that will be okay.
Don’t keep looking down at your technological device to see what the song titles might be. They don’t really matter. Most are instrumentals, but a few this time around have vocals by Arnór Dan Arnársson of Agent Fresco. Some of them you will understand, and others are in Icelandic I guess, and others are just wordless sighs, keenings, croonings, and the softest of howls. You’ll never get as far as saying “Oh this is my favorite song” – they’re all part of the same thought, just expressed in slightly different colors.
Some titles provide snapshots of the overall mood, however. “Only the Winds” is Third Stream quietness, led by a melancholy cello line and driven by both a simplistic piano line and echoey 1980s Linn drum slaps. “This Place Was a Shelter” is darker, filled with crashing phased percussion lines; it seems to be a gritty reboot of the lush “This Place Is a Shelter” from Living Room Songs, but maybe not.
“A Stutter” is a standout, with its melting string quartet buttressed by alien landing-craft synthesizer noises. The emotional title song makes wonderful use of its newfound vocal color – when the chorus comes in, you might find any remaining ice breaking and melting in your heart.
If you need something else, a blaster or a groover or something boisterously messy, I will not blame you one bit. That, after all, is as valid a gateway into heaven as anything else. But when the booms and the blasts have died down, and you need to get lost – as we all do – in your own house of mirrors, you will know where to turn.