REVIEW Ólafur Arnalds ‘re:member’ [Mercury KX]

To the listener the beauty of an acoustic instrument could be its purity of sound; a wrong note or incomplete tone is just a consequence of its human aspect and therefore not a consequence at all. The beauty of an acoustic instrument to the performer could be its ability to communicate what words lack; a multitude of emotions with no name. But regardless of why, the music of Ólafur Arnalds is truly and simply beautiful. The Icelandic multi-instrumentalist fuses acoustic with electronic, blending the boundaries between classical and ambient, solo and instrumental. His soundtrack for the highly acclaimed UK drama ‘Broadchurch’ won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for ‘Original Television Music’ in 2014 and he’s collaborated with piano superstar Nils Frahm.

Clean harmonies and chords coupled with charismatic melodies and crisp tones can be accredited to Arnalds’ many talents. His album begins with the title track and single ‘re:member’ which includes acoustic piano and string as well as electronic instruments alike. Completely balanced, neither sides of his productions overbear the other; in fact, they do nothing but compliment the remaining sounds.

Unfold’, another single, is just as atmospheric. Beginning with an upbeat tempo set by forceful violin bowing it embodies a sense of adventure or storytelling, as does the sound of the stream. There is a purpose to this journey. Wind instruments are introduced while the cello sings mournfully and pianissimo piano notes dance in the soprano. Wordless vocals, performed by English singer and producer SOHN, materialize, preserving the mystery behind this unnamed quest, encapsulating us all in its light.

Saman’ is short and sweet; a piano ballad that stirs up feelings of hope and completion, whereas ‘Brot’ is an ensemble-rich piece whose stringed chord progression always misses the dominant note, creating an unfinished feeling. Playing towards his producer strengths ‘Inconsist’ has more electronic elements weaved throughout. It begins with the sorrowful sounds of strings, which begin as a whisper and crescendo louder until a beat begins. Instrumentation gathers as the main violin line teeters back and forth. A whirl of elements, alternating legato and pizzicato, violin and viola’s, tenor and bass until it dips down suddenly to end the piece in a quiet piano dynamic.

High registered notes glisten in the soprano of ‘they sink’; a cascade of pleasing thirds dance above a full-bodied cello line until it ends as quickly as it begins, whereas ‘ypsilon’ and ‘partial’ both have lush soundscapes fit for a soundtrack. ‘Momentary’ is as sweet as it is soft. A never-ending melody that fits within the confines of an octave it is set to a static background bringing character from places you didn’t know existed. The third last track ‘Undir’, surely Old Norse for ‘under’, as well as the following track ‘ekki hugsa’ are both paradoxically uplifting yet melancholic, a common theme throughout the album.

The final song ‘Nyepi’ begins with a bare piano melody and a backdrop of rustling atmospheric sounds. An arpeggiated sequence emerges, stemming from the upper voice adding texture and emotion and a violin gently sings. It closes this heartfelt journey humbly, letting us be with our thoughts until the end.

Interesting to note that Arnalds has used his groundbreaking new software ‘Stratus’ during the production of this album (and artwork). The ‘Stratus Pianos’ are two self-playing, semi-generative player pianos’, [created in collaboration with composer and audio developer, Halldór Eldjárn], which are triggered by a central piano played by Ólafur, and are the centrepiece of his new works’. The results are unexpected melodies and harmonies and a breathtaking, innovative album.

Ólafur Arnalds album ‘re:member’ was released on August 24th, 2018 on Mercury KX.

Review by Tess Daniella