News Ólöf Arnalds - Innundir Skinni

A stepping stone on, an album with a matured posture.

There’s something wonderfully mysterious about the work of Ólöf Arnalds and this certainly has something to do with the connotations of her homeland, Iceland. Whether it’s the unsteady ground, the alternating ratio of snow / grass, the fact that the earth is literally exploding from beneath Eyjafjallajökull and through the thermal springs that dot the island: conjured up in Arnalds’ voice, we’re reminded of all this natural magic.

With one album firmly under her belt, ‘Innundir Skinni’ feels like a stepping stone on, an album with a matured posture. Where ‘Viõ Og Viõ’ was very much an intensely personal affair focussing on family and friends, sung entirely in Icelandic and with a strong towing of the native folk line, the latest LP spreads the creative wings just that little bit wider.

‘Klara’ is echoed by the melodic plucking style present on ‘Vinkonur’, but even as one of the lighter affairs on Innundir Skinni, the track still fills with the flourishes of her vocal and a resounding xylophone accompaniment that filters in later.

Arnalds has chosen to include three English language songs, which make for slightly less adventurous vocal parts, but emphasise the musical dexterity she adds to the Icelandic numbers. Where ‘Crazy Car’ pitches her alongside theatrical maverick and leader of the group Trabant, Ragnar Kjartansson, her velvety lower range is glorious beneath his. The words add to the idea of a voyage, “Here’s your home, here are your friends / will you stay until this ends? Please, please think inside the box”, where a longing cello line hints at the emotional pulls and fears that travel brings; the sense of abandonment. Yet the track is much more than this, it’s a summation of life’s greatest exploration – taking in home, death, friendship, growth – discovering yourself, and moreover accepting what you find.

A further English track, ‘Jonathon’, draws upon more British style of folk, with repeat guitar refrain upon which the verses are harnessed. When Arnalds brings her bell-like vocal down to just a whisper, it allows the instrumentation that follows to sparkle, leaving the sorrow behind.

In the first instance, the opening track on the album feels just as cemented in the South American samba roots as it is grounded by Arnalds Icelandic a capella introduction. Great swathes of vocal “la”s take over and are accented by snatches of guiro percussion, making quite an entrance theme of irresistible forro tempo. Complimenting the sense of exploration and exoticism in the opening, closer ‘Allt I Guddi’ makes for the return leg. Finger picked dobro guitars, acoustics and what sound like mandolins are drawn together like running currents over which Arnalds enters a simple “ba dum” and embellishes, with the dynamics of the individuals growing louder alternately.

Of course, for many the temptation to draw comparisons to fellow Icelander Bjork is just too much. So luckily for them the pair are brought together for the weighty ‘Surrender’. Throaty and unmistakable, Bjork’s growl grows from the middle marker, but does not overshadow Arnalds, but rather acts as the antagonist to the repetitive sung motif of the chorus picked out from the guitar plucking, headed by Arnalds. It could almost be ostinato, were it not for the weight of the knell on the first beat of the phrase, which becomes thicker in texture on every revolution. The competition between roughly six different parts, all intersecting with brief motifs, gives this track a body and elegance to make it the undoubted highlight, despite a rather sombre feel.

Having taken the trails and wound up back home (well, Arnalds’ home), ‘Innundir Skinni’ leaves the listener well-rounded and fulfilled. Her voice, wild and theatrically nurtured, has somehow encapsulated an impressive blend of space and range and majesty that is reflective of her home, but subtly goes a much greater distance.

Tags: Olof Arnalds, Reviews, Album Reviews

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