Ólöf Arnalds Ólöf ArnaldsInnundir Skinni
Let’s say that 50 % of the people who work in music are women (which is a fallacy: we all know that it is a pre-eminently male world, even sexist). Then let’s say that 50 % of that 50 % get pregnant at some time in their lives (we’ll be egalitarian and leave it like that, although I would swear that the total would really be much more than 50%). With this information in hand (that I just plucked from the air), one might think that “pregnancy albums” would be more common. But nevertheless, it seems that when it comes to talking about such an intimate subject, women prefer to pour their feelings out into their personal diary and not into their songs. There are exceptions. For example: Fever Ray’s brilliant, wicked self-titled debut, which is sure to torment her child forever. And another example, on the opposite end of the maternal emotional spectrum, we have “Innundir Skinni” by Ólöf Arnalds.
The artist herself has confirmed that the nine songs on her second album are a sort of compilation of the best songs that she has accumulated in recent years. When she had them all packaged, with the pretty pink ribbon around them, she realised that they all revolved around her recent maternity. Hence the title “Innundir Skinni” (which means something like “under the skin”), which is the title of one of the songs as well as that of the album, which crackles softly like a thin layer of ice covering the fields on a winter morning. If “Vig Od Vio” (One Little Indian, 2007) was an album-amulet that helped her come to terms with the recent death of her father, Ólöf closes the circle in her second work, sliding her songs slowly around the concept of birth and pregnancy. Death and life. Death and birth. And nevertheless, Arnalds elegantly avoids the sugary danger of making “Innundir Skinni” into a bunch of lullabies to sing to her baby. On the contrary, her new songs sound like the intimate solitude of a woman resting sweetly on the porch while her child is sleeping in the crib: those moments when a mother stops being two to be one again, and feels the imperious need to root around in the ruins of her personality to recover her singularity.
Following the path of comparisons with her debut, what was voice and guitar there blossoms here into a wider range of instruments. In this respect, the first song is clear: “ Vinur Minn” starts from the coals of “Vig Od Vio”, with a naked voice that is suddenly accompanied by a guitar, and when you think that everything will stay the same as in the earlier work, the song turns gently like a boomerang and becomes richer, with luminous choruses and a rhythmic percussion that sticks to your palate like the smoke from a bonfire in the middle of the night. From then on, straying from the marble coherency of her first album, the songs open like different flowers, each of them pointing towards a different sun, but suns that are next to each other. The predominant feeling is that of being at a crossroads between the paths of Björk and Bill Callahan, lighting up a chilly folk that replaces the American’s eagles and horses with an imaginary town of benevolent animals that are close to polar. This is the case of the song that gives its name to the title of the album, but especially that of two of the best acts of the lot: “ Crazy Car”, which borders on being an evening pastoral hymn (with the sweet addition of the Bonnie Prince-style voice of Ragnar Kjartansson), and “ Jonathan”, with a percussion that resounds through space and time. Also nearby are the shadows of Vashti Bunyan (in the diamond-like “ Svíf Birki”), Mark Kozelek (the skeletal, but not stunted “ Madrid”) and another illustrious woman: Joanna Newsom ( Surrender” with Björk, in which the ukulele mutates into a wild harp to create one of the most beautiful songs of the season).
The most impressive thing about “Innundir Skinni” is seeing how the emotions break through the language barrier to reach your heart intact: almost all of the songs are sung in Arnalds’ native Icelandic, but this doesn’t prevent the beating of a pure meaning underneath the words, which ends up rising to the surface. This last should be partly attributed to the intimate, delicate, glassy production of Kjartan Sveinsson ( Sigur Rós). But it should especially be attributed to the artist, who has now become an alternative to the megalomaniac fuss of Joanna Newsom. It’s odd that both gestated their albums in the light of their maternity (Olof's was real, Joanna's was psychosomatic.) But while the artist of “Have One on Me” (Drag City, 2010) chose to turn her experiences into a sort of 19th-century “Hello!” for the gallery of the Opera (and this isn’t at all negative, for the record), Ólöf Arnalds has chosen to let her hair down like someone talking to a friend while they have a hot cup of coffee, with winter right around the corner.
Raül De Tena