Not to be mistaken by the ukulele siren Ólöf Arnalds, of solo and múm fame, the Icelandic Olafur Arnalds is the minty eyed male equivalent. While there’s plenty of hoo-hah of his musical past, jumping from his role as a hardcore drummer to a multi-instrumentalist and solo act, Olafur has dedicated his latter career to classical experimentation, and ho, it’s breathtaking. While blonde-haired waif basks in his one off performance with Johnny Greenwood, we decided what perfect timing to wash away this glee by procuring his track by track guide to his recent album …And They Have Escaped The Weight of Darkness.
1) Þú ert sólin
One of the newer songs on the album, probably my personal favourite. The strings melody was originally the piano, but I thought it was better on strings so I made a new piano line. This was the perfect opener for me, something that tells a lot about what's about to happen.... kind of like the opening theme in a movie.
[Claim a free download of this track over on olafurarnalds.com]
2) Þú ert jörðin
I wrote this song actually after I started recording. I felt the album was missing something - a build up before the crescendo in the next song. I decided this in the middle of the piano recordings actually and I knew I couldn't go back into the piano studio (it's in Germany), so I had to just record something there, and hope it would be a good base for a song. So I just hit record, played that piano motif a bunch of times and made a few different beginnings and endings to it - so I could choose afterwards, depending on what the rest of the song would be like.
The end of that Rhodes piano line is one of the geekiest moments of the album. I spent over two hours getting the echo just right there (I was using a very old Roland RE-301 Space Echo, which quite randomly changes speed... so it's hard to get things exactly like you want them).
Conceptually, this is where things shake up a bit, hence the crescendo here and things exploding. And the really sad ending…leading into the middle part of the album, the dark part.
4) Loftið verður skyndilega kalt
I actually almost deleted this song off the album, as I wasn't happy with the recording of it. [I] didn't think that it portrayed the real feeling of the song well enough. But I was convinced to keep it on and am happy I did. I had just been working on it too much. It's one of the oldest songs on the album, written in early 2008.
Another song I think works better live than on recording, but an important part of the 'story' the album is telling. I love writing simple stuff like this and trying to take it as far as I can go. Here I was exploring how the same three notes can mean something completely different in the beginning and the ending of the song - just because their surroundings are different.
6) Gleypa Okkur
Another personal favourite. Barði (my co-producer) had a huge effect on this song. When I brought it to him it had really heavy, distorted drums and screaming synths but it turned into light brushed drums, e-bow guitars and a choir. I think this was over 160 tracks in the studio. Each time you listen you should be able to find new elements, there are harpsichords, timpanis, rhodes, synths, shakers and a bunch of electronics. I never get tired of hearing that huge sub-bass drum when listening in a good stereo.
7) Hægt, kemur ljósið
This is where things turn around again, where the light starts coming back from the shadows and the little 'story' starts closing in to a happy ending.
8) Undan Hulu
Probably better known as The Cello Song, the oldest song on the album. I performed it on a German TV show in late 2007 that went on youtube and has since then become quite known so it's great to finally have a proper recording of it out. As the working title may have suggested - it's a cello solo, accompanied by piano.
9) Þau hafa sloppið undan þunga myrkursins
The album's title track (translated into Icelandic) and the story’s finale. I wanted a happy ending to the album, to end with something positive and to put emphasis on the point that the light always comes back...
Words: Gemma Dempster
Illustration: Steven Schweickart