Artist: Ólafur Arnalds
Title: Living Room Songs
Record Label: Erased Tapes Records
Your iTunes will insist on classifying Ólafur Arnalds’s latest release as “Modern Classical,” which is perhaps a bit misleading. I don’t mean to take anything away from these prettily composed instrumental gems, only to suggest that the structures here have at least as much to do with pop music than they do with classical. Not at all a bad thing, especially for a classical lightweight such as myself.
There is an engaging story behind these seven pieces; Arnalds wrote and assembled one track every day for a week, recording and filming them for live broadcast to a receptive internet audience. This does mollify my initial reaction to the music on “Living Room Songs”: while pleasant and engaging, the music here is slight, falling short of a few obvious touchstones that suggest themselves, such as Rachel’s “Music for Egon Schiele.” The music on this record may not quite measure up to the ambitious spontaneity of the overall project, especially when the thrill of hearing the music broadcast live is removed.
There is certainly beauty in this record, and the rapidity of the compositional process speaks to the reserves of skill that Arnalds possesses. Adjective-adverb combos such as “warmly intimate” and “achingly gorgeous” tend to pepper the reviews of Arnalds’ music, something he bears in common with fellow Icelanders Sigur Ros. The superficial qualities of the music produced by both certainly bear qualities in common–a sort of lilting, church-solemn gravitas that forbids all but the quietest of whispering at shows, and a respectful head-cocked nod of appreciation to the home-listener, with optional tear- glisten. Arnalds has musical substance to boot. Behind all that prettiness is music that, at its best, is impactful and striking, occasionally evocative of the best moments on the This Mortal Coil albums—and all this from a living room project, ambitiously conceived and effectively executed. It’s no surprise that Arnalds is a mere twenty-four: this project is audacious and successful in a specific way that only talented youth can achieve.