Ólafur Arnalds Ólafur Arnalds? And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness
ERASED TAPESWe had been following the Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds closely since he surprised the indie community with his first album, “Eulogy For Evolution,” which followed the neoclassic path with rigorous, serious composition, explicitly instrumental intentions, academically ambitious arrangements, and an electronic addition here and there as a wink and concession to the sub-genre already bubbling over in 2007, when it came out—all despite its geographical origin, Iceland, and the record label behind it, Erased Tapes (with its post-rock affiliations). Since then, and due to his young age when he recorded this coming-out album (he was just over 21), he became the protégée, the spoiled child, the golden boy of the neoclassic universe. He continued along and enlarged his own trail with an especially prolific, active, regular career the two following years with an EP, the more orthodox “Variations Of Static,” and two albums, the more experimental “Dyad 1909,” created as musical accompaniment for a work by the choreographer Wayne McGregor, and “Found Songs,” a compilation of songs that he himself was hanging for a few months on his website.
In just over three years, the composer and musician has shown above all a constant, serious pace of work, as well as an interesting degree of perfectionism and self-exigency that has had a positive effect on a legacy that it is difficult to find fault with. Musically, his discourse has circulated within the more traditional language of contemporary music with elegance and sophistication, without renouncing a bit of flirting with a more pop, electronic structure, which helps him give a more modern, daring focus to his basic proposal, justifying the meaning of the “neoclassic” label. Arnalds builds his songs based on the piano, the cornerstone of his sound, and from there he raises monuments with very refined string arrangements and occasional digital touches. With such an encouraging panorama, it seemed clear that this Icelandic composer had only to finally present us with entirely new material, designed, written, and executed specifically for this occasion. This would place an accent on two fundamental aspects: on one hand, to show that the teachings of his previous works could go further, grow and expand from all points of view, that there would be no stagnation; and second, that he would be able to transcend his own discourse and evolve, mature, and blaze new trails. And he has successfully done both of these things.
“…And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness” is, above all, the stylising and streamlining of the Arnalds universe. Where before you could tell that he raised the tone too much, where you realised that some arrangements weren’t necessary or that some compositions were worked on more than others—small flaws that never spoiled the contents—here it is all more balanced, considered down to the smallest detail, perfectly calibrated. This is a more subtle Arnalds, especially at the beginning of the album, where he feels no need to automatically seek out a crescendo. The two first songs avoid precisely that, with the piano acting as the backbone and modest string arrangements complementing the action, without stridency, a soft, gentle quartet sonata. It is in the third song, “Tunglið,” that we hear the first signs of change and of the artist’s expressive, creative play. A drum comes up and all hell breaks loose: a sound explosion like Sigur Rós, an increase in intensity and the appearance of muscle, not very visible in his career. Something similar occurs in “Gleypa Okkur”, with a drum, guitar, and a subtle chorus of background voices who bring the author to the edge of the most biting post-rock. And last but not least, the closing song incorporates an electronic beat, wind instruments, and drumrolls that help to outline this turn towards a more physical, also more exultant proposal, in which the creator’s raging romanticism also shows signs of vitality and power, not only self-absorption and flagellation.
The dynamic doesn’t only change in this sense. Here, we also discover the composer’s more “soundtrack” side. “Hægt, Kemur Ljósið” is probably the best creation of his career, a lovely mosaic, vibrant, pure ecstasy, mixing chord arrangements that James Newton Howard and Thomas Newman would kill for, and a rhythmic, instrumental base that injects more life, energy and emotional exaltation into the whole. Submerged in a comforting sadness, pure post-romantic melancholy, elegant, modern, challenging, “…And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness” is an album that leads you to wish with all your heart that somebody had broken that heart just before listening to it, so that you could enjoy it even more. An explosion of total emotion that serves to provide the biggest possible framework for a result that fulfils expectations, meets its goals, and increases confidence in Ólafur Arnalds as the great hope of present and future European neoclassicism, more consolidated today than yesterday, but not as much as it will be tomorrow.