Album Review: For Now I Am Winter by Ólafur Arnalds
Great, Based on 9 Critics
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It only takes a glance at the song titles of Ólafur Arnalds’ new album to understand where the Icelandic pianist is coming from. Peppered with tracks such as “This Place Was a Shelter,” “Only the Winds” and “Old Skin,” For Now I Am Winter is filled with widescreen ambitions that deliver on every count. Coupled with vocals from singer Arnór Dan, Arnalds’ delicate orchestral compositions are sure to endure long past the thaw and into the spring.
First, become afflicted. Unclench your well-lined fists, open the door in the brick wall that surrounds your heart. Let the sadness of modern life wash over you like a waterfall, like a cold shower, like a breakup, a breakdown, a breakthrough. It takes a lot of control to keep it together in these times, and a lot of self-discipline to keep that control together.
Enigmatic Icelandic composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Ólafur Arnalds' major-label debut, the Mercury-issued (and aptly titled) For Now I Am Winter, effortlessly incorporates elements of pop into the budding singer/songwriter's already evocative blend of wistful neo-classicism and icy electronica. Though his work has been seeping into the mainstream of late, with soundtrack contributions to films like Looper and The Hunger Games, Arnalds remains a shadowy figure, and For Now I Am Winter, despite its more commercial leanings, does little to dispel that notion. Helped along by the tasteful orchestrations of American composer Nico Muhly and the fluid and expressive voice of guest vocalist and fellow Icelander Arnor Dan, the lush and lonesome collection falls somewhere between the ambient, string-laden melancholy of Eluvium, the rural soul searching of Bon Iver, and the cosmic opulence of Sigur Rós.
There’s always a worry when artists who specialise in instrumental music decide to record an album that features vocals. Maybe it is partly fear of the unknown (ie. what form the voice will take) or just a nagging concern that what follows might dilute or sully their former work. In more cases than not it seems to result in albums that get pushed to one side and quietly overlooked rather than embraced wholeheartedly in the way their earlier albums do.
This young Icelandic neo-classicist is certainly not one for taking things slowly. Since his 2007 debut album, Eulogy for Evolution, Ólafur Arnalds has blossomed through numerous collaborations as well as scoring films and TV shows, with his music also featuring in recent blockbusters Hunger Games and Looper. Informing his latest album, these projects have helped his style to mature and evolve considerably.
Multi-instrumentalist and contemporary classical composer Ólafur Arnalds, known for his solo work, Hollywood soundtracks and collaborations with Nils Frahm, brings us his latest release, the aptly titled For Now I Am Winter. His third full-length to date, it features orchestral arrangements from NYC-based composer Nico Muhly, as well as some judicious use of laptop electronics. Several numbers, including the heavily melancholic title track, which comes across like Sigur Rós meets Antony and the Johnsons, feature the vocal talents of fellow Icelandic native Arnór Dan.
Review Summary: We too shall rest.Nobody would blame Olafur Arnalds for being tired. In the last five years, the Icelandic composer has released five EPs and two full-lengths, scored three films and toured relentlessly across the globe. And while all he’s created has been pretty enough, his most recent projects have felt pretty uninspired. If Arnalds were to falter, it’d be unsurprising for the event to occur on the verge of all this activity.
Since his emergence as a solo composer and producer in the mid-’00s, Icelander Ólafur Arnalds has been categorized more for his nationality than his actual music—inextricably linked to the expansive, glacial imagery of his homeland. But it’s not as if he’s shied away from those labels: Like his fellow countrymen (and former touring mates) Sigur Rós, Arnalds has a flair for textural drama and grandiose extremes—arranging angelic orchestral ambience that often explodes into post-rock climaxes or gurgling electronic tirades. Not much has changed on his third full-length, the fittingly titled For Now I Am Winter.
It isn't rare for classically trained musicians to cross into indie, but moving the other way is trickier. Icelandic pianist Ólafur Arnalds, a young composer of shadowy, wistful, slow-paced chamber music, is making it work. He began as a teenaged hardcore drummer with an illicit love of classical and film music. His efforts in that vein earned him a solo deal with Erased Tapes, home to likeminded artists such as Peter Broderick.