Album Review: Ólafur Arnalds - 'Island Songs'

Aaron Kent reviews Ólafur Arnalds majestic, collaborative album, 'Island Songs'.

Ólafur Arnalds is only 30, and that scares me. I first heard 'Eulogy for Evolution' in 2010, about a year after its release and I was in awe of him. There I was, twenty one years old and unsure of my place in the world, knowing that I wanted to be creative but unsure how I could even stand a chance at that age. I listened to 'Eulogy for Evolution' on long angsty walks through round the back of the dodgy estate I lived, in Truro. I knew that this Arnalds guy must have worked hard and spent his twenties on some sort of formative adventure to create the work I was entranced by. Ólafur Arnalds was twenty one when 'Eulogy for Evolution' was released. I had a lot of catching up to do.

That’s not to say I wanted to create sparse, glorious loops on piano – not at all, I wanted to write – but he had found a calling, set his mind to it and was making waves. I hadn’t even dipped a toe into a drainage ditch somewhere between St Day Road and Harmony Close. If Redruth and Truro hadn’t offered me any reason to write, then maybe it was me. Yet, I found inspiration from those surroundings, and created a short film titled St Day Road (shameless plug, St Day Road will be released soon – keep an eye on @GodzillaKent for details) in which I wrote ten poems, one each for the rooms of the house I grew up in.

'Island Songs' finds Arnalds attempting a similar experiment, except grander and more expansive as he travelled to seven different locations over seven weeks and collaborated with seven different artists. Each week, Ólafur Arnalds released a music video for that week’s collaborative performance, directed by Baldvin Z. If you haven’t watched any of these, start with the beautifully shot, interior-set 'Particles' with Of Monsters and Mens’ Nanna Bryndís.

The whole collection is wonderful, from start to finish. 'Island Songs' could have run the risk of being disjointed due to the variety of collaborations, but Arnalds keeps it grounded and connected, finding a theme throughout and threading it from beginning to end. This may be the most remarkable, and spine-tingling collection of songs released from Iceland this year.