Olafur Arnalds, For Now I Am Winter

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 05.09.13 in Reviews

For Now I Am Winter

Olafur Arnalds

The Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds writes richly evocative, almost cinematic works in a style probably best described as “electroacoustic chamber music.” Not to be confused with his cousin, the singer/songwriter Olof Arnalds (her recordings are also worth checking out, though), Arnalds is part of the new breed of (mostly northern) European composers who draw on equal parts post-minimalism, post-rock and film music. Fans of Max Richter, Dustin O’Halloran, Sylvain Chauveau, Hauschka and Johann Johannsson will find in Arnalds a kindred spirit. New York composer/pianist Nico Muhly, a frequent collaborator on the Icelandic new music scene, provides the arrangements which, even at their biggest and most dramatic, somehow avoid pomposity and melodrama. But the most notable guest might be singer Arnor Dan, who appears on four tracks. Until now, Olafur Arnalds recordings had been a vocal-free zone. Even here though, Arnalds often uses Dan’s voice as a part of the instrumental texture, with the literal meaning of the text a secondary concern.

Richly evocative and almost cinematic

The title track, “For Now I Am Winter,” is a gentle song somewhat reminiscent of Antony and the Johnsons. It reappears in two remixes at the end of the album: the first an electronically-processed piano piece with a subterranean-sounding mix from Nils Frahm, and the second built around a sturdy downtempo groove by Kiasmos (Arnalds’s techno duo with fellow Icelandic musician Janus Rasmussen). The opening track, “Sudden Throw,” moves from a glittering, icy beginning to a grand, dramatic conclusion — the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from the so-called post rock crowd — except that it is compressed into a three-minute span instead of Sigur Ros’s 10 minutes, or godspeed you! black emperor’s half hour. “Brim” immediately stakes out further sonic territory with its highly rhythmic string quartet writing, contrasting with the sweeping electronics and digital percussion before ending with some plangent piano chords. Other highlights include “Old Skin,” another of the songs with Dan, with somewhat clearer vocals and a more propulsive string orchestra sound; and “Only the Winds,” an elegiac piece that seems to be inevitably headed for use in a film score.