Where’s the Elevation?
On a tiny island, big talent gets noticed. Ólöf Arnalds, a longtime member of the Icelandic indie rock community, has slowly broke into the massive American one since 2010. That year she released Innundir Skinni on One Little Indian Records, which included three tracks sung in English. One of those songs even featured Björk in the background—again, not surprising considering that Iceland’s the size of Kentucky. Björk and Ólöf Arnalds make sense together; they’re both creative forces, lovely and quirky Scandinavian songbirds. But where Björk’s sound is large, experimental, and sometimes difficult to interpret, Arnalds’ sound is readily accessible. Her most recent record, Sudden Elevation, solidifies her place as an artist; her accent is unignorable, but her flawless English opens the door to universal renown, rather than remaining in the “Icelandic singer” category.
“German Fields,” the opening track is a rhythmic, atmospheric piece. The instruments repeat basic beats and melodies, keeping the song’s background on a constant plane. But rather than resulting in boredom, Arnalds allows her high-pitched, soft vocals to dip and rise all over. By the end of the song, it’s not only the instruments that play in circular patterns. She loops her voice into several rounds, creating a small chorus of Ólöf Arnalds’. Something about this track is positively adorable.
So where does the album go after that? Does it expand, broaden, elevate the singer? Does she show off her vocal chops (she studied singing during her university years) or perhaps her training as a violinist? Alas, she demonstrates her mastery of the cute singer role, but does not vary far from that. The title track held hope—perhaps that is where she might break away, rock out, or show off in any way at all. Instead, she remains on the same level as previous tracks: light, sweet vocals, pleasing acoustic guitar, plucking and strumming its way to nowhere. Nice stuff, really. But Arnalds never grabs her listener, never steps up in his face to say, “Look what I can do. Look what I’m going to do”. An emerging artist needs to do that in a day where anyone with a voice can Kickstart their way into the indie rock scene.
Pretty, enjoyable, sweet– but Ólöf Arnalds could have used a little less Icelandic pony and a little more volcanic eruption.