It’s interesting, sitting here to write something about the beautiful new Ólafur Arnalds album 'some kind of peace', complete with tinkling piano and keyboard runs that sparkle and glisten like the frost when illuminated by the greatly-lowered late-Autumn sunrise, that it felt so centring, so grounding, so wholly peaceful. It’s no secret that 2020 has been a tumultuous, unpredictable, staggeringly complex year in which humanity has faced innumerable crises, but spending forty or so minutes with the placid and wondrous compositions found within Arnalds latest work, a reset of sorts washes over you.
For many people here in the UK, the past eight months have offered flickering moments of community and hopefulness amidst dire uncertainty and a dawning realisation that elected officials have been staggeringly under qualified to guide us through these trickiest of times. We’ve walked journeys that we would otherwise have driven. We’ve bought local where we once ordered online. We’ve reached out where so often in years previous, we would have looked the other way. The all- engulfing tragedy of this last year has been difficult to endure, but these moments of genuine goodness have, in some ways, made it all worth it.
It’s these little nuggets of positivity that Arnalds new music seems to focus on in his new album. It feels innately optimistic, even when the melodic or instrumental choices feel fairly nostalgic and decidedly melancholy. It often finds solace in a slower pace than we would associate with uplifting music, and yet, when it all came to a close, the feeling of being infinitely more relaxed than the last few months have allowed for was one that was not only unexpected and welcome, but so present that it was difficult to shake off.
In requiring his listeners to pause and take note of every movement, every detail, every plucked string, every jangling note, every swell, every moment of silence, and every beat, Arnalds inspires a collective mindfulness in his audience. In these most isolated of times, heading into what can be the loneliest and harshest season of all, this album feels almost communal.
It should come as no surprise to those who have followed his career that Arnalds should share in a naturalistic sense of humanity often so closely associated with the music of his fellow Icelandics. The music of Björk and, in particular, Sigur Ròs is so ingrained with the Scandinavian ideals of humans working with nature, that it’s unsurprising how much of it is used to soundtrack wildlife documentaries the world over. It’s music that finds beauty in the simple and banality in the extravagant, and that, in a nutshell, is what Arnalds is directing us to hear in his new record.
'some kind of peace' is an album of sparkling sincerity. It offers solace to the isolated, welcoming arms to the world-weary, and, above all, creates hope for the future. It’s a romantic album in a way that Arnalds most recent work would have almost turned its nose up at. 'Re:member' his record from 2018, was equally-sublime, yet felt more distant, more happily alone, more ambivalent to such sentimentalities as the human spirit. Two years later, and his compositions embrace and encourage you to feel and get lost in their musical direction. It’s a truly delightful experience that delights in its unexpected and uncompromising approach to positivity. The art work and overall feel of the compositions may speak to a chilly, typically Nordic solitude, while the music of this record is anything but.
A late year treasure that shouldn't be overlooked, it is as timely as it is timeless, and as needed now as any musical work of the last year or so.
Words: Mike Watkins
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