Artist: Olafur Arnalds
Album: Another Happy Day O.S.T.
Label: Erased Tapes Records
The music comprising a film score is sometimes referred to as “incidental music,” a term particulary suited to Olafur Arnalds’s work on the score for the 2011 American family drama Another Happy Day. “Incidental,” in this case, unfortunately carries the additional definition of inessential and casual. The harmonies in Arnalds’ score are rich and tragic, and it’s easy to envision the emotionally fraught or tragically chilled scenes that these pieces were written to accompany, but the music lacks a certain life of its own.
Most of the 11 tracks on the album consist of an exchange between flutteringly brushed piano chords and sinuous violin melodies, embedding variations on the tune most prominently captured in “Lynn’s Theme,” the album’s centerpiece. There are occasional quite interesting ventures into slightly more raucous territory [soundtracking, perhaps, a dust-up between stars Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Barkin] on tracks such as album closer “Everything Must Change.”
The music is quite good, and beyond adequate as an accompaniment to a film, but pressing an album of this music moves it into a slightly different category, where it cannot quite justify its existence. The soundtrack album can be a beautiful thing, and I find myself listening to more of this material every year—the De Angelis brothers, Colin Towne, R.D. Burman, the inevitable Morricone. The best of these albums can be listened to alone, and it can actually be quite jarring to watch them accompanied by images when and if you find a copy of the film. In the case of Arnalds’s album, the notes seem to beg
for the missing images, seem to need the dramatic interchanges on screen to fulfill and expand the tracework suggestion of these compositions.
The strictures of the film’s post-production meant that Arnalds had to complete this entire work, start to finish, within two weeks, and the quality of the music he was able to create in such a short span of time testifies to the fizzing talent in the prolific mind and hands of this 24-year-old Icelander.