Ólöf Arnalds - Innundir Skinni

Chris Tapley 08/09/2010

Rating: 3.5/5

A couple of months ago I reviewed the lead single from Ólöf Arnalds' second album, the title track of which (Innundir Skinni) is a wistfully gentle piece of acoustic wonder. Not being familiar with her first record I was all set for more of the same from the album itself, and whilst there is still plenty of that going on here, there's so much more. Opening track 'Vinur Minn' makes this apparent as it quickly sprawls out to reveal a rather more exotic creature which invokes the image of a busy environment packed full of unrecognisable figures, and actually puts me in mind of the incredibly well realised market scene from Hellboy 2, bursting with the same fervent imagination it seems as though it would be the perfect soundtrack.

Whilst the rest of the album never scales those extroverted heights again, it is definitely symptomatic of the effervescent spirit which underlies these seemingly downbeat compositions. New single 'Crazy Car' is a beautifully harmonised ballad with Ragnar Kjartansson whose lyrics embody the unassuming nature of the album; “Dearest dearest here's a song, so beautiful bright and young”. 'Madrid' on the other hand is a particularly tortured piece, the swirling sounds of violin paint a painfully bleak image which is at odds with Arnalds' somewhat mousy vocals and forms an interesting juxtaposition.

'Jonathon' recalls Icelandic dream-folk troupe Múm, whom Arnalds has collaborated and performed with for several years now. There's a charming sense of wonderment to the song, with a range of bizarre little noises peaking out from beneath the melody and the softly suggestive tribal type drums which swell with the chorus. It's probably the best track here and is most indicative of the kind of brilliantly joyous music which she is capable of producing. Ólöf's move out of the shadows of her collaborators is signalled further by the fact that she has an artist such as Björk performing backing vocals on 'Surrender'. The shrill tone of the harp is beautifully offset by the melding textures of the pair's vocals, although instrumentally the track doesn't really offer much at all and it definitely seems like something of a missed opportunity. As the combination of vocal styles, if given the right context, could have created an incredibly beautiful piece, as it is it's just quite nice.

Innundir Skinni is a beguiling record and one which manages to find a very comfortable middle ground between the accessible and the avant garde. If you haven't got the capacity for all three discs of Joanna Newsom's latest opus then this is certainly the year's most capable replacement. And whilst it too could perhaps use a few tracks shorn from it's running time it is worthy of it's own acclaim which becomes more and more apparent as you immerse yourself in it's folds the more mysterious wonder begins to show itself.

Release date: 13/09/2010