Youthful avant-garde Icelandic singer and songwriter that loyally lends her style to the more ambient, folkie Scandinavian panache, Ólöf Arnalds, has been active in the Icelandic music scene for some time. It is certainly not surprising to find that she used to be a touring member of múm, as she entertains East London in Shoreditch’s craft-beer selling hotel, music venue, Ace Hotel.
Typical of the Icelandic folk ilk, Arnalds discordantly warbles her way through her set, uniquely commandeering silence. Her compelling, almost ethereal vocals oblige the room along with her sweet, and humbling, comical stage chat between songs. Comparable with Bjork in her quirks, she also used to collaborate to Iceland’s leading musical export, also signed to One Little Indian, on previous albums but there is no sign of the kitsch songstress to accompany this evening. However, I must allude that her style is unique, with no immediate comparisons drawn throughout the evening apart from brief moments of being thrown back to a Vashti Bunyan gig.
Having already two critically praised albums under her belt, Arnalds has controversially opted for a more stripped-down third album, the streamlined, sumptuously melodic Sudden Elevation, compiled with narrative songs. One key notable feature about this record is that her twelve intricately, Arnalds’ written songs are exclusively (or not, depending on your perspective) in English.
Despite her complete turnaround in style, there is no doubting at this gig her controlled, acrobatic contralto albeit not in her native Icelandic tongue. There is an obvious nervousness, and humble presence on stage but this could be down to the fact that she is playing an elegant hotel to an almost sold-out, pack room. Significantly flawless and technically astute, the sound washes over the audience in this hotel venue, whilst she attempts context with some of her tracks, playing both English and Icelandic tracks.
Although undoubtedly talented, your taste has to be rich for the gourmet resonance that fills the auditoria, and for me these sounds are a little too strong for my auditory palette. Further to this, her timidity whilst on stage, which is perhaps a self-esteem barrier on the English singing, holds her back from enveloping the room, and winning over that crowd. The social and cultural awkwardness is highly apparent but the crowd no doubt warmed endearingly towards her for it.
She certainly succeeded in commanding their full attention during her pastoral, minimalist set.
With the release of Ólöf’s imminent third full studio album, Sudden Elevation, in 2013 I was surprised to witness her sing some of her Icelandic preceding music, particularly in consideration to her audience. I am sure, however, that there were plenty of Scandinavians in the room, reaping the atmosphere, and this popular musician’s presence, bearing in mind her previous records, and collaborations.
Produced by faithful collaborator Skúli Sverrisson this third album was largely recorded in a two-week, partially snowed-in, autumn 2011 stint in a seaside cabin in Hvalfjörður, with overdubs and mixing at Ólöf’s house in Reykjavík and at Sigur Rós’s Sundlaugin studio at Álafoss, Sudden Elevation has less intricate audio layers than any of her previous records, opting for a raw, uncluttered sound. Coloured by the koto harp, keyboards and electric guitar, all played by Ólöf, as well as the nimble applied string section, this is by no means a bland record.
And should we suspect that she is looking to be more widely known and successful with this brave embark towards the English album? Gibbous with talent and clear ambition, The Guardian were perhaps correct in 2011 that venues such as the Ace Hotel and the Vortex jazz bar will be too intimate for the success that is being paved for this curious artist.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.