Album Review: Ólafur Arnalds – ‘some kind of peace’

Existing at the bashful intersection of neoclassical, ambient, and EDM, the latest project from Icelandic producer Ólafur Arnalds, some kind of peace, strips away his synonymous opulent compositions and cinematic trills to reveal something astutely more raw and vulnerable. Making use of meticulously selected ambient samples and hypnotic string-and-synth soundscapes, the record is almost entirely voiceless, and earned high plaudits from The Mic’s Amber Frost.

Arnalds is arguably a pioneer in the realm of modern composition with his last album Re:member, premiering the revolutionary Stratus technology in 2018. Whilst his newest release doesn’t harbour a new digital composition tool, it certainly showcases how versatile Arnalds is as a composer; offering contemplative and emotional warmth in the form of piano, strings, electronics and voice.

Icelandic vocalist JFDR provides a Björk-like timbre in Back To The Sky as their voice glides over the gentle ticking click of electronics, accompanied by the swelling hum of strings. The purity of the vocals combined with tender lyrics such as I could be loved by you, offer that bittersweet desire of comfort and heartache all at the same time. The Bottom Line features the German singer-songwriter, Josin, who's voice blends into the instrumentation as though it were another layer in the thick luscious string orchestration. British musician, producer, and DJ Bonobo provides a glistening soundscape on the opening track Loom; its serene energy encapsulating perfectly the atmosphere of the rest of the album as it gently pushes the listener towards a more pensive and reflective state.

The intimacy we are able to share with Arnalds makes some kind of peace the perfect companion for times as pressing as these.

Whilst the collaborations that feature on some kind of peace are what anchor it and capture the themes of human connection and togetherness, it is the moments of isolation that are heard the loudest. Tracks such as Spiral, Zero, and We Contain Multitudes echo Arnalds’ earlier sound. These all reflect elements of modern minimalism similar to composers such as Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Dustin O’Halloran. Arnalds himself described the album as his own journey of personal and creative growth, set against the backdrop of a chaotic world, struggling to navigate the realities of everyday existence. Whilst the journey may seem metaphorical, it can be perceived in a literal manner too – the voyage from Loom to the final track Undone embodying Arnalds’ own vast musical development.

Undone begins with a passage of spoken word from the American singer, Lhasa de Sela, who at the age of just thirty-seven, lost her battle with breast cancer. The use of this poignant passage feels as though it is the calm after the storm; one that reflects life’s own journey. Undone allows us to linger on the idea that being born is the same as dying, a sensation that Arnalds admits is a defining theme for the entire album. He writes pensively: occasionally in life, you feel some ripples and don’t know what they are, and most of the time we choose to ignore them, and then we die, or we think we’re dying, but who knows, maybe we are just being born – I thought it was such a wonderful sentiment.

It remains clear that Arnalds has shown his soul in creating this record. He has intertwined elements of electronica, classical composition and showcased an array of voices all to provide a moment of peace for a world that feels so turbulent. The intimacy we have been allowed to experience and share with Arnalds makes some kind of peace the perfect companion for times as pressing as these. Forcing the listener to confront their fears about isolation whilst simultaneously comforting them through the touching medium of music, it is a remarkable and lingering listen for fans of any genre. .

Written by: Amber Frost

Edited by: Alex Duke

Featured image courtesy of Ólafur Arnalds via Facebook.