Olof Arnalds - Innundir Skinni

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2010-09-13

Innundir Skinni is the second album by Icelandic artist Olof Arnalds but perhaps the first time many (in the UK at least) will have heard of this unique and ridiculously talented musician. Arnalds sings in both Icelandic and English over the course of this frequently captivating album of strange folk. The album often comes on like an Icelandic cousin to Joanna Newsoms' epic Ys album. Yet unlike Ms Newsoms' sprawling masterpiece, the songs on Innundir Skinni (roughly translated as Under the Skin) rarely pass the four minute mark and in the case of tracks like 'Crazy Car' retain a pop sensibility that Joanna stretched into stranger shapes with Ys. In fact there's a kind of peaceful simplicity running through Innundir Skinni that makes it an extremely accessible listen as well as an unusual one.

The album opens with 'Vinur Minn', with just Arnalds vocals echoing through the room before the track slowly builds into a dusty, almost Calexico-esque waltz. It's a disarmingly stunning track, all the more effective for it's brief two minute duration. Next lead single and title track 'Innundir Skinni' works Arnalds meditative folk magic before the wonderful 'Crazy Car' warns us with whispers "a pop star, is a pop star, don't go in the crazy car...please don't go to America". It's a really beautiful song with an undercurrent of an unknown danger just below it's surface. 'Vinkonur' draws those Joanna Newsom comparisons again as Olof sings pixie-like over gentle percussion and a tender harp.

'Jonathan' is a sprightly folk tune that's as original as it is rooted in tradition as Olof coo's "alternating between affection and hatred" over an immaculately stunning melody. 'Madrid' is a more sombre moment, almost sounding like Radiohead or Deus at their most subdued. Far from being miserable, 'Madrid' is a subtly gripping highlight in an extremely strong set of songs. Not being fluent in Icelandic, I have no idea what most of these songs are about, although Arnalds has mentioned in interviews that many were simply about family and friends. Yet it's often this difference in language that makes the album such a intriguing listen- the listener is never lumbered with one meaning or interpretation. Even those sang in English are far from transparent - I mean what exactly is a crazy car?

Fellow Icelander Bjork duets with Arnalds on the fantastic 'Surrender'- effectively acting as a seal of approval from Icelandic musical royalty. Kjartan Sveinsson from Sigur Ros appears on production duties- Arnalds is more than at home with Iceland's finest musicians and innovators. Innundir Skinni has an aesthetic and consistency that makes it more than a collection of songs, but a fluent body of work that needs to be heard together. Taking her influences from traditional folk as well as more contemporary troubadours, Olof Arnalds is a wonderfully modern yet classically aware songstress. Throughout Innundir Skinni there are shades of Vashti Bunyan, Bjork, Isobel Campbell, Sigur Ros and Joanna Newsom. Yet despite all my mentions of Ms Newsom, Olof Arnalds is a distinctively unique artist and certainly one to watch.

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